One man in his time plays many parts

Being a grandparent, I sometimes wonder what other grandparents say to their grandkids.

Some grandparents are unable to speak to their grandchildren once they reach high school age. They’re like two acquaintances forced to be together with nothing to say.

I believe, like Shakespeare, that human life is lived on a stage that every person stands on whether they wish to or not, whether they acknowledge the fact or not.

And for those who frump it and say they have nothing to say, well, by doing so, they’re having their say: to the puzzlement of family and friends.

On the stage, as we read the script assigned us — some say they create the script themselves — we attest to our value in life, our worth in relation to others, and our place in the history of human existence, all with grave consequences for our subconscious.

Macbeth speaks for Shakespeare speaking about life as a minimalist:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more.

I would love to sit down with Billy S. and ask him what that means and how such thinking affected his writing.

With respect to the stage conceit, I’ve often said that, when I was young, my parents were in the first row, in the footlights, directly facing the audience. Then, when they died, without me doing anything, I was whisked to the front where they once stood and it was me in the footlights facing the audience, directly, eye to eye, the footlights revealing the intensity of the relationship.

I was there for a while but then, when my son and his wife had a child, I was whisked to the back of the stage and my son moved to the front, at the footlights, the grandkids behind him, in front of me. I’m farthest back from contact with the public.

All these shifts in generational positioning have had me asking questions about who my grandchildren are, and not just mine but grandchildren en générale — the intergenerational thing.

My grandkids are related to me but they live in a whole other universe in that, when my son was growing up, he was in the house here — we had a face-to-face relationship; I had some control over him and to a large extent the conversations we needed to have.

I have three grandchildren and continue to wonder who they are, and how I might introduce myself without pushing them away — but remaining true to myself — in no way wanting a pal.

I used to say I wanted a grandfather like me but I also know some kids are born into the wrong family, which means they have the wrong grandparents: I might be no more my grandchildren’s cup of tea than the guy selling hot dogs at the food cart in front of the New York City Public Library on 42nd Street.

On one level, it doesn’t matter; on another, well, the story is worth its weight in gold, that is, how grandkids assess their grandparents in private, and whether later on they have a sense they came from them.

The passage of traits from generation to generation needs more study, especially from grandparent to grandchild.

Because I’m a poet, I have written a birthday poem for each of the three grandkids — not an occasional poem — for nearly every year of their lives. They’re in my published books.

The oldest grandchild just turned 19, the last day of August, the week after he left for school in Maine. I have many poems for him.

What follows is a short prose poem I’m sending him as soon as I’m done here. When he reads it, I hope he doesn’t say he’s in the wrong family.

Maybe you speak to your grandkids the way I do — I have no idea. Regardless, I pass on the following text in case you are one of those grandparents who sometimes wonders how other grandparents speak to their grandkids.



A guy I once knew used to say: If you knew me like I know me, you’d … and then he’d stop like he just got caught doing something bad.

It was noticeable. I saw it because years before I began to fly above the world and see as Selma Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson does in “The Wonderful Adventures of Nils.”

The Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, spoke of such sight in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. (Lagerlöf got the prize in 1909, the first woman to do so.)

It seems as though Hans had a facility — by flying on the back of a goose high above the earth — to see everything as it was and, to some degree, as it was meant to be: simultaneously.

Seeing things from up above turned me inside out, though sometimes I think it happened the other way around. It’s not weird, I eased into it — I can talk about the practice another time.

If I were developing a Psychology-of-Self Inventory (PSI) I would include a question or two about vision — ask everyone to say how (and what) they see, and show all work as required in math.

I’m still bothered by the number of people who spew anger into the face of others because, they say, life has cheated them.

A woman I know comes to mind — Freud would love her — she never laughed or smiled. When I saw the extent of her sorrow, I took up my pen and wept.

I hope this doesn’t sound like it’s coming from another world.

At Starbucks today I spoke to a young barista named Mimi. I said: Mimi, you’re like the Mimi in “La Bohème,” a beatnik in love with all that’s love and the fanciful flights of dreams: She got TB and died.

At her last breath Puccini has the orchestra blast forth a thunder darker than the Dies Irae — I think it’s the Buddha speaking.

If someday you wonder who your grandfather was — I’ve told you once or twice — well … maybe even this is premature.

In the evening when the sun is down, I read a bit before the lights go out, buzzing like a bee inside a flower.

Some nights I can’t sleep because the day’s events and what’s in store have me watching one second pass by another.

The genius of my self is the way I see — which sometimes shows in the form of an assassin: but I always get to sleep and, in the morning, feel like Jesus on Christmas Day.

August 16, 2022

4:39 p.m.

The Ville

Happy 19th!