American Life in Poetry: Column 138


You’ve surely heard it said that the old ought to move over to make room for the young. But in the best of all possible worlds, people who love their work should be able to do it as long as they wish. Those forced to retire, well, they’re a sorry lot. Here the Chicago poet, Deborah Cummins, shows a man trying to adjust to life after work.

At a Certain Age

He sits beside his wife who takes the wheel.   
Clutching coupons, he wanders the aisles   
of Stop & Save.  There’s no place he must be,   
no clock to punch.  Sure, 
there are bass in the lake, a balsa model   
in the garage, the par-three back nine.   
But it’s not the same.   
Time the enemy then, the enemy now.   

As he points the remote at the screen   
or pauses at the window, staring   
into the neighbor’s fence but not really seeing it,   
he listens to his wife in the kitchen, more amazed   
than ever—how women seem to know   
what to do.  How, with their cycles and timers,   
their rolling boils and three-minute eggs,   
they wait for something to start.  Or stop.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2007 by Deborah Cummins, and reprinted by permission of the author. Deborah Cummins’ most recent book of poetry is Counting the Waves, WordTech Communications, 2007. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.