Desert Years or, Forty Lines (To Be Performed As a Quartet of Cocktails) in Which an Otherwise Staid Grammarian Dons His Buffo Cap-n-Bells to Tease out a Paean to Age and Wisdom and Hammer out a Good Riddance to Youth and Folly



To Matthew

I. Prologue
Before that booze and business of the sharpened pen
Began for you, your early training took a look
At primer lines, a triple-stitch of pen-lined track
That shaped and drove your words with sober sense. And then
You learned to hold your liquored ink with limes and gin,
To jig your syntax, pour your words in equal parts.
These forty years you’ve freighted life with art and arts
Have kept your straight-and-narrow crooked and cracked awry
Enough to balance bitter prayers with sweetened rye –
A doubled up Manhattan with cheery cherry hearts.

II. Adjectives
Before you wed or fathered, adjectives became
Your necessary evil (fruitless, sparse, morose) –
Such drossy throwaways, from pages of loess,
Alluvial paragraphs, diamonds in the gravel all the same…
But, writerly and forty, adjectives now come
To you as sharp as clocks with ticks that whittle your stick
Of wants and desires to memories (anachronistic),
Of days and hours to moments (funereal);
But minute hands have also held you (prodigal)
With verbs that drank (prodigious) and loved (prolific).

III. Verbs
And let’s linger a bit on these timely verbs of yours,
The ones that peg your heart and date you to degrees
You’ve lost with bachelorhood. All stormy seas
Are transitive calendars. On yours, you bent your oars
To fight the flood the intransitive tide implores.
But then a simple verb of being linked your bliss
To Juno’s paycocks and fairer fowl: for love is
Like Noah’s pigeon feathers. Brassy nib and beak
Both hunt and peck unbroken ground to seek
That person, place or thing of love – the is of does.

IV. Nouns
We come at last to blocks that spill upon the floor,
And build from words to names to children: Winn,
Therese, Elijah, Olivia, Isaac, Fin
Each child has your byline (each lamb you held before
You, marveling that the power of creation bore
Such tiny headlines). The power that thoughts to paper give,
All verbs receive as wholly nouns; each adjective
Of youth and folly yields to something more worthy:
What fathered forth from these, your desert years to forty,
By age and wisdom that fast became your feast of love.


  1. Jonathan Potter says

    Beautiful. Next subject for the lives of famous Catholicks series: Matthew Lickona.

  2. Matthew Lickona says

    The smart folks in attendance lauded the surprise progression toward nouns instead of verbs.

    • Sure, in the beginning was the word (i.e. L. verbum) but that’s God’s deal – our job is simply to name (i.e. F. nom > L. nomen), be fruitful, multiply, all that fun stuff.

      (Confusing, huh? Verbing nouns and nouning verbs…You can’t make this stuff up, can you?)


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