A birthday poem

Yesterday was my 26th birthday. I’ve long-since outgrown a desire for presents or big celebrations (I’m not comfortable being the center of attention for long expanses of time), so we repeated last year and kept it simple: A trip to IHOP for my free breakfast from them, rummaging through a used bookstore, talking while he made beef stew, watched How to Train Your Dragon, dinner, presents, and dessert (scrumptious strawberry shortcake!).

by Donald Justice

Great Leo roared at my birth,
The windowpanes were lit
With stars’ applausive light,
And I have heard that the earth
As far away as Japan
Was shaken again and again
The morning I came forth.
Many drew round me then,
Admiring. Beside my bed
The tall aunts prophesied,
And cousins from afar,
Predicting a great career.

At ten there came an hour
When, waking out of ether
Into autumn weather
Inexpressibly dear,
I was wheeled superb in a chair
Past vacant lots in bloom
With goldenrod and with broom,
In secret proud of the scar
Dividing me from life,
Which I could admire like one
Come down from Mars or the moon,
Standing a little off.

By seventeen I had guessed
That the “really great loneliness”
Of James’s governess
Might account for the ghost
On the other side of the lake.
Oh, all that year was lost
Somewhere among the black
Keys of Chopin! I sat
All afternoon after school,
Fingering his ripe heart,
While boys outside in the dirt
Kicked, up and down, their ball.

Thirty today, I saw
The trees flare briefly like
The candles upon a cake
As the sun went down the sky,
A momentary flash,
Yet there was time to wish
Before the light could die,
If I had known what to wish,
As once I must have known,
Bending above the clean,
Candlelit tablecloth
To blow them out with a breath.