Young And Beautiful
Our short history
and all the interminable hours since last night
have educated us. We're the lucky ones,
fashionably thin and functionally eloquent,
we get by. Our parents — so diligent, so astute,
so rich we can no longer hope to know
the simple satisfaction of hardship, amuse ourselves
with subtler privations, pricking our thumbs
on death's sharp edges, complaining.
Oblivion loves us, knows us like
a confidante. We belong together, share
all the best moments of our lives, flat out
or dancing until daybreak, phosphorescing
within and without. Chemicals burn
our skin and eyes, but whatever does not heal
can be replaced, refurbished. Miracles happen almost
every day, and money, like me and you, wants
to be wasted. When it hardly matters
we'll meet each other falling down
or swinging aimlessly, stumbling from one glorious
disaster to the next. Surely this is the way to live
if not to die, as giddy as a circus,
as calculated as a Ferris wheel.
If wisdom eludes us, bliss explodes
like a beer glass against your temple,
bleeding just a home-made cure
for youthful exuberance. — Jesus! This could go on
for years, until something sticky
finally slows us down, and we creep,
sooner or later, into a universal middle age
painlessly resigned and dutifully undistinguished.
Don't let it happen to us! Don't let it happen yet, or soon!
Don't let it happen while the lights still flash
and sear, while the music pumps its fists,
while we're still young and beautiful
and hungry for that next sweet fix
to smooth our wrinkles and fill our hollows
and let us sleep throughout another day.
I am an uncle twice, the first time
to a sweet, young boy, now nine,
who, when asked what he might be when he grows up
replied 'I want to be like Jesus.'
I bit my tongue, fought down
those grown-up cynic's jibes.
('You mean you want to walk on water,
raise the dead, be crucified
for other people's faults?') I smiled,
tried not to laugh, and worried
where such faith might take him.
The second child is two, a girl, and she
adores me — I can't say why.
When she phones, her grandmother
can barely speak two words
before she interrupts, 'Where's Uncle Jeff?
Where's Uncle Jeff?' When she is here
we play together, hide and seek.
She tells me where to hide, then goes away
to count, returning to find me just where
I'd been put. We scream with mock surprise
and real delight. At the playground
we cook up fish and chips in the dirt,
march up the hill together
then back down again, play catch
so close we almost hand each other the ball.
I try not to play favourites, spread myself
between them like an uncle should.
It's hard. Such joy, such fun, such guileless love
makes an ageing bachelor feel
he might be worth preserving after all.
My nephew is a mystery, a riddle
to be probed and solved, a promise
I will try to nurture as I might.
My niece is pure delight, a reason
to forgive myself all faults, a licence
to be young again, a blessing
neither looked for nor expected.
Jeff Klooger’s work has appeared in a number of Australian literary journals, including Meanjin, Overland and Westerly. He has a PhD in social theory and philosophy from La Trobe University.