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At nine years a sickly boy lay down
At bedtime on a cot by mother's bed
And as the two darks merged the room became
So strange it left the boy half dead:

The boy-man on the Ox Road walked along
The man he was to be and yet another,
It seemed the grandfather of his mother,
In knee-breeches silver-buckled like a song,
His hair long and a cocked hat on his head,
A straight back and slow dignity for stride;
The road, red clay sun-cracked and baked,
Led fearlessly through scrub pines on each side
Hour after hour-the old road cracked and burned,
The trees countless, and his thirst unslaked.
Yet steadily with discipline like fate
Without memory, too ancient to be learned,
The man walked on and as if it were yesterday
Came easily to a two-barred gate
And stopped, and peering over a little way
He saw a dog-run country store fallen-in,
Deserted, but he said, "Who's there?"
And then a tall fat man with stringy hair
And a manner that was innocent of sin,
His galluses greasy, his eyes coldly gray,
Appeared, and with a gravely learned air
Spoke from the deep coherence of hell-
The pines thundered, the sky blacked away,
The man in breeches, all knowledge in his stare,
A moment shuddered as the world fell.


At twenty years the strong boy walked alone
Most fashionably dressed in the deserted park
At midnight, where the far lights burned low
And summer insects whined with little tone.
There was a final and comfortable dark
So that he walked deliberately slow;
It was not far from home, he'd been to see
His girl, who had sat silent and alone.
Picking his way upon the patched brick walk,
It being less dark near the street, he hastened
And knew a sense of fine immediacy
And then he heard some old forgotten talk
At a short distance like a hundred miles
Filling the air with its secrecy,
And was afraid of all the living air:
Now between steps with one heel lifted
A stern command froze him to the spot
And then a tall thin man with stringy hair,
Fear in his eyes, his breath quick and hot,
His arms lank and his neck a little twisted,
Spoke, and the trees sifted the air:
"I’m growing old," he said, "you have no choice,"
And said no more, but his bright eyes insisted
Incalculably with his relentless voice.

© Allen Tate