THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME
I am bound upon a wheel of fire
He could not imagine himself as Lear.
He could do age. He could rage on a heath.
Wounded pride, a man gone wild: he could be clear
on those, stalking the stage, ranting beneath
a moon tinged red. Let words rather than full
throated roars carry fury while the wind
howled. He could do that. And the awful pull
of the lost daughter, the old man more sinned
against than sinning. The whole wheel of fire
thing. But not play a wayward mind! Be cut
to the brains, strange to himself, his entire
soul wrenched free, then remember his lines but
act forgetting. Understand pure nonsense
well enough to make no sense when saying
it. Wits turned was one thing; wits in absence
performed with wit was something else. Playing
Lear would force him to inhabit his fear,
fathom the future he had almost reached
already. Why, just last week, running here
and there to find lost keys, a friend’s name leached
from memory. Gone. No, nor could he bring
himself to speak the plain and awful line
that shows the man within the shattered king:
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Selected Poems: 1970-2005 (Tupelo Press, 2008)
Writer's Comment: "The Role of a Lifetime" won a Pushcart Prize in 2007. In telling the story of an aging actor whose preparations for the role of King Lear tap into his deepest fears about memory and its loss, the poem liberated me to confront some of my own issues in the wake of viral-borne brain damage.