Old at Forty-Four
Michael Langford Whitlow
My children tell me that I’m old.
Forty-four-years-old and still not “on line.”
Telling them I like to browse down aisles in the public
library as if inspecting an autumn crop of vine-ripened
tomatoes, only adds to their growing belief.
So I write them letters. “Off line” I say.
Love letters. Letters in praise of good grades.
Letters asking what filled their lunch boxes that day in school.
The same stuff that one would write “on line,”
only my words come tucked inside a cardboard sandwich
of a Van Gogh painting, or a comic from the Peanuts Gang.
Stuff that comes from the Hallmark Store.
And although my typeface options are a bit limited,
they are mine. Even the face that blots from time-to-time;
ink that spills over from holding too much love.
I like to think of it that way anyhow.
They think I am old too because I don’t own a cell phone.
I’m not cool like that. Both of my hands still manage
to stay on the wheel while I’m driving.
But then again, that’s not cool either.
With my land-locked phone, I call them from
the island of paradise that is my bed.
They call me from the prison cell that is their computer.
Once while taking them back for a visit
to the old Chicago neighborhood,
I pointed out more smells and sounds than sights.
Like the train whistle that warned us kids to
get off the tracks, long before the creaky old joints
of the metal contraption ever snaked into view around the bend.
And how one whiff of my mother’s yellow cake with chocolate icing
in the oven would remind everyone of a family member’s
birthday without ever having to look up the date
in that cheap-ass Seaway Bank calendar that came free
each Christmas when you opened a passbook savings account.
Maybe they think I’m old because I prefer
James Brown to Bobby Brown.
“Who is that?” they ask.
“Who is James Brown?” I say with the dumbness
of an atheist in a confessional.
“No, who is Bobby Brown?”
They remind me, “Why write when you can call.”
“Why call when you can visit,” I volley back.
“Why visit when you can never leave the house
and still talk to all of your friends at once on line.”
There is just no way to answer that without being thought
to be every one of those forty-four-years.
So I stay at home a read book instead.
Shakespreare. Langston Hughes. Willa Cather. And Countee Cullen.
“They’re the Maters,” I tell them.
“Yes, but they keep me alive.”
When I’m not reading, I’m writing poetry.
Like deference to an emperor, I prefer meter.
It’s more challenging so it takes more time.
These words spill forth upon my children’s ears
as if spoken in some foreign literary slang.
Like them hearing an “old school” Curtis Blow rap album.
On occasion, though, just for kicks,
I dabble in some free verse.
Just to remind them that I can still be young and foolish.