“When Compasses Grow Old ” & “Runaway Train”

When compasses grow old

When compasses grow old
And can no longer be certain
About precisely where north is
And wouldn’t recognize
South-southwest if it bumped into them
At a party
And knocked them
Into the punch bowl
There is a place where they can go
To live out their lives
With the kind of companionship
And dignity they deserve
After a lifetime of faithful and selfless service
Pointing the way
For all those seeking the trailhead
Or the buried treasure
Or the palace of the beloved

At the Home for Elderly Compasses
The residents spend their twilight years
Reminiscing and perhaps boasting a little
About heroic adventures
In which all appeared lost
Until they saved the day –
Although the particulars do seem
Increasingly elusive –
And when someone’s nephew
A shiny young GPS just out of graduate school
Comes to visit
They gather around
And listen politely to his tales
Of satellites and microwaves
And other wonders of new technology
Although they are utterly baffled
By what they are hearing
And after the nephew leaves
They shake their heads slowly and cluck to each other
About how easy kids have it today

Like ours the sleep of elderly compasses
Is not always untroubled
There are nightmares about
Torture by naughty children with horseshoe magnets
Or being mistaken for pocket watches
And smashed to bits
For failing to tell the time
Or tossed into the back of a dusty drawer
With a tattered topographic map
And a rusted pocket knife
To be forgotten forever
But morning does come
And as the old compasses take their toast and tea
And winter light washes into the room
Through east-facing windows
The bad dreams fade
And recalling as they gaze into the pale cold sky
How they helped so many navigate their way
Over howling mountain ranges
Through tangled woods and swamps
Across trackless immensities
The compasses feel no urge themselves for new journeys
Content now to be just here
Where all directions start

Runaway train

I have a vague recollection
That they mentioned
Time would pass more quickly
As I grew older
But I am dead certain no one said anything
About a runaway train
Hurtling along the tracks
At terminal velocity
Through the days months years remaining
With me inside
Lurching from coach to coach
Searching in vain for
A red lever behind the windowOf a small cabinet labeled
In Existential Emergency
Break Glass Pull Handle

0 thoughts on ““When Compasses Grow Old ” & “Runaway Train”

  1. Buff,
    I came across these poems as I was looking up old friends from the Omaha days, always curious about where and who they are now.

    Love these poems. I read them while clutching the strap on the runaway train, braced against the existential emergency.
    And it was good to hear your voice.
    V. Dowling

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