My Careful Life


My careful life says: 'No surrender.
Not an inch.' Sometime I wonder

what thrills the darkness as I pass
the scented gardens of excess

or pause in the twilight to condemn
the parked cars rocking in the lane.

But still my life cries: 'Work and save.
Rise early. Stay home after five

and pull the curtains. They are blessed
--prudent, abstemious--who resist.

All things in moderation. Share
nothing. Be seemly and austere.'

My careful life sighs: 'Love? Forget it!
Avoid what is sexually transmitted.

The "wasteful virtues", I'm afraid,
earn nothing. They put you in the red.

Samaritans get mugged. Be wise.
Pass watchfully on the other side.

Your youth was stainless. Now your joy'll
be the middle years full of self-denial,

and an old age as ripe and warm
as is commensurate with decorum.'


Frank Ormsby, Goat's Milk: New and Selected Poems, Wake Forest University Press, 2015.