Allen Stein: “Carpe Diem (As if You Could)”


“Forever—is composed of Nows—”

                                          —Emily Dickinson

“To peer out into the universe is to look back in time”                                                                                   

                                           —Jacob Howland

As the early sunlight streams into my room,
I rise and glance toward the mirror,
seeing myself as I was for one bright, brief now.
That now is now gone, along with the countless others
that swept past while my reflection bounced back to me;
and I’ve aged. The wrinkle at the corner of my eye
is deeper in this now, though not perceptibly yet;
another now cascading toward me in the endless
Niagara of nows will disclose it unmistakably.
When have I ever seen myself? How does one take stock
of an inventory ever changing, growing
by the very act of tallying? Great material
for a tale by Borges but offering no vision
more settled than the shifting of leafy shadows
or the sands swept in a simoom. Troubling to think
that each now is immediately a then.
The caring Mom and Dad I ran to with my skinned knee
or bleeding nose had already left me far behind
as I sped desperately toward the past, my young blood dripping.
The guys in the schoolyard were a new bunch
from one bounce of the ball to the next,
sprinting down a bygone court in a departed world.
Had I been a kid of real sentiment, I suppose,
I would have looked back, second to second,
and missed my former pals painfully, anew and anew.
I overstate, of course, but, truth be told, only slightly.
So, my darling, as our swiftly vanishing selves
couple through the vanishing nows, let us give
the changing you and the changing me something
that seems enduring to peer back on.

Allen Stein teaches at North Carolina State University. His poems and stories have appeared in such journals as Poet Lore, Hudson Review, Willow Springs, Salmagundi, South Carolina Review, and New Ohio Review. His first poetry collection, Your Funeral Is Very Important to Us, was published by Main Street Rag, and his second, Unsettled Subjects: New Poems on Classic American Literature, by Broadstone Books.

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