"You have a nicely weathered face," Edgar wrote. Then for a long time I didn't hear from him. What! I thought. Had he expected I'd look the same as I did at sixteen. What kind of a past-is-present idiot was he, this high school boy friend who'd recently gotten in touch. We'd been emailing every couple of weeks—music, books, poetry, his late wife, my present husband. When he asked for a photo, I must have sent the one with cracks and crevices incised like geologic strata into my squinting face. His comment was an honesty better left unsaid.
wild rose thicket
Then another message. Edgar was going to a Zen festival to attend a workshop led by Jane Hirshfield. He was to bring a koan of his own and a poem written by someone else. Could he bring one of mine? I am out of my mind excited at the prospect of this admired poet listening to one of my poems, eager as an adolescent to know whether she will like it, will she find it zen-ish, will she quote it somewhere? "Yes, yes!" Sure; I, too, had expected I'd continue to look the same as I did at sixteen.
in autumn fire
Edgar is not the only high school beau to hail me across an expanse of years. Earlier, another classmate, long relocated to Brussels, had broadcast an email to everyone in the U.S. with my maiden name—adding my nickname for proof positive—and located me via my brother. Turned out he was a widower, looking for a new wife. When Edgar wrote, I made sure to include a reference to my husband amid my surprised-and- delighted and what-do-you-hear-from-the-old-gang response. Everyone had a role in high school. Mine seems to have been the solid second choice, the girl they remembered—after a while. Who is now "weathered." Worn. Bare of color. Thinned. Bent from the true. A picket fence! Believe me, ancient boyfriend, I may be old and grey but not full of sleep and, if I were in the market for a new squeeze I'd pick someone younger than you, one of those back of the magazine specials, a beautiful 45 year-old, for example, fun-loving, brilliant, well muscled, hair, teeth and good humor intact.
dreams of white flowers
on pliant branches
Edgar replies. Jane Hirshfield has listened to my poem in silence. He sends a photo of himself and his wife before she fell ill. They are beautiful in their love. In gratitude, I offer "No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace/As I have seen in one autumnal face."1 After all, John Donne, in that same poem called this stage of life love's good "timber."
1. John Donne, Elegy IX: The Autumnal.