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What to Expect of the Decades

for a three-year-old boy who hasn’t asked yet


The first ten years are up to chance.
The color of your eyes, the smell of your skin—
riding your parents’ topography.

You and your avatar go places.
People give you candy.
Everything goes without a hitch
until one day you make the mistake
of saving a seedling maple from the lawnmower.

You didn’t see it would take forever
to learn everything it knows.


In your teens, you take a rain check
at your local school for the gullibly insane.
They don’t allow your kind
of humor there anyway:
encrypted obtuse with a touch of Chaplin.

You climb a tree with high-hanging fruit
and become an anthropologist.

Then, one winter, she finds you
the girl from nowhere.
Warm as a sauna beside the frozen lake.
The ice that year
thin enough to skate on.


In your 20s, you pass through a sunrise
to see what colors are like
on the other side

You stick your stubbly chin out,
re-toss the dice,
write on the back of a postcard to yourself,
It’s either a particle or a wave.

You, the provocateur photographer
bumming your way across Europe
reflected in a train-car window.

On the Rome to Amsterdam
a woman offers you half a peach
stuck on the end of a paring knife.

Everyone else is asleep, she whispers.


In your 30s, you work around your work
to give the Daddy-years permission.

The rotation nearly catches up with itself.
Your kids’ favorite songs compose themselves on the piano.
No one interrupts when someone is singing.

In the back yard, on the path between
the rhody and the vine-maple
a bird’s nest, high up.

You call in sick to build a perch
you and your girls can watch and wonder from.
Three blue eggs. Dappled shade. Snacks.


If you’re lucky, your 40s are a feed lot
for your swollen assets
but you need to know which stars to thank.

Look into my eyes.
When I snap my fingers
you’ll reveal what species of deck-wood you want.
What grade shingles.

One day there’s a hold up
at the front of the check-out line.
You mutter something unkind.
Behind tinted glasses
no one can see what an epitaph you’ve become.


It’s best to float
down the entire length of your 50s
in an innertube, wrap your arms around
passing compass points and squeeze
until the heavy ones sink and the light ones disappear.
Equilibrium up close, true or not, helps you focus.

If a wino floats by, ignore him.
If a suicide bomber floats by, ignore him.
Even God doesn’t know what’s in the water.
The book you write is in the water.


In your 60s, you forget the point behind
your expensive landscaping.
You like the fallen leaves
where they fall now.
Pumpkin scones for the neighbors
you walk barefoot, off-sidewalk, to deliver them
to feel the earth’s ribs connect
with the jungle in your feet.

Blended seasons somehow.
Air: cool and warm. Sky: blue and pink.

All that talk about moving to Rome
is ancient history now.


At the end of your 70s
you remember being five
aboard The Maid of the Mist at Niagara.

Huddled under your mother’s plastic poncho
the blast of the falls your first true calm
inside a storm.

Every morning now, you take a long walk
for your health.
When you get home
on the hallway table
acorns and sticks
pine cones and leaves.



John Harn’s collection Physics for Beginners won the Blue Light Book Award in 2017. His poems have appeared in Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Carolina Quarterly, Hotel Amerika, South Carolina Review, Spillway, and Post Road, among others. Originally from Michigan and Oregon, he now lives in Galveston where he’s working on a new manuscript. He is the co-author of three daughters.