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  • Old age does not happen slowly
  • but all at once, in the head. The body takes its time
  • getting there, but the mind, clinging to youth
  • flashes suddenly — behaving as if it were still
  • careless! — flashes on sagging skin, discolored hair.
  • If you’re a woman you probably cry.
  • Your face is set in sour lines about the mouth
  • at the corners, and you’ve an ailment that’s killing you.
  • The ailment is Time.
  • If you’re a man you joke about not getting it up
  • so often but doing it long and slow and women like it
  • better that way haha and you talk about the good old days
  • of football and war.
  • But if you’re gay you’re dead.
  • Nobody wants you, old friends think you’re pathetic
  • and leave you alone with brief visits.
  • You eye the beauties like some leftover dinosaur
  • hovering in silence, terrified
  • of those hard men you used to have.
  • For if they go with you now it may be your funeral.

Harold Norse (1916–2009) became a part of W.H. Auden’s group of friends and writers after Auden moved from London to New York back in the late 1930s. Norse lived for several years in Italy, lived in the famous “Beat Hotel” in Paris with his friends Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and William S. Burroughs, lived in Tangier as guest of the writers Paul and Jane Bowles, and when he moved to Venice, California, he became friends with Charles Bukowski. Norse was most closely associated with the Beat poets and spent the last many years of his life in San Francisco. William Carlos Williams spoke of Norse as the best poet of his generation. He was also one of the first openly gay poets in the 1950s and ’60s. Norse’s memoir is Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey. This poem is taken from In the Hub of the Fiery Force: Collected Poems 1934–2003, published by Thunder’s Mouth Press.

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