Just a Number

When it comes to age,
we’re all in sweet denial.
A jury bribed to overlook
the evidence
has ruled that we’re still young.

It’s just a number, right,
says Tommy, my Greek barber,
don’t count the summers,
you knock a quarter off.
Il Kwon, the Korean grocer,
dyes his hair jet black,
José, who paints our kitchen,
takes a younger lover every year
and conceals her from his wife.

We all light up
like pinball bumpers
when we’re carded for
our senior discount
at the ticket booth
or when the huckster at the fair
misguesses our age
by a full six years
and we walk off with a kewpie doll
for which we have no earthly use.

Can’t they see the furrows
ploughed by sleepless nights,
the six-months paunch
straining against the belt,
the hair combed a little too artfully
across the barren plains?

God bless your failing eyesight, sir,
won’t you drop a coin or two
in our tin cups of vanity
before you travel on?

(originally published in Paradise Review)

 

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