There are certain phrases I wish I’d never heard.
Mouse’s warning: Never drink at a strip mall bar.
Nemerov’s condemnation that the world
is now made up of pictures of the world,
as if I wasn’t already feeling one step removed.
Or the worst one: on NPR, the author of Still Alice
noting as mere passing commentary
that at the end of the day, memory is all we have.

I want more because as I approach my final
five thousand days on this planet, barring
the calamitous or the miraculous, eternity becomes
much less an attraction. I fear becoming the table side
jukebox my father became. Converse long enough
and you’d arrest from its nap one of the dozen stories
he had left to tell. C10: his World War II landing
in France, dispatched to locate wine for the officers.
E6: the money he cleverly marked to catch
an office thief, the company treasurer no less,
the stories I’d heard a hundred times that stirred him
to tell, twelve life sentence stories escaping their prison.

The running joke among our circle, our ghoul pool,
is determining whose feet stand closest to the grave.
Breast cancer, a sudden fall, a stent, no one leads for long.
We are five-furlong horses in a six-furlong race. There is
no reason to announce what the twelve of us already know,
one’s stablemate most of all: This decade is going to suck
as the sole stories left to tell become our past.

What I fear more than death, more than eternity,
is my politeness, my acceptance of the world and
my place in it, that I too am that diner table jukebox.
F3: the bachelor pad my landlord painted pink
while swing shift Reno me was asleep, the one
I abandoned because I knew in that abode
where everything was. I told friends then that while
I didn’t seek stress, I needed uncertainty,
the dead mouse aging now lays at my feet.

Joanne confessed last night after a second
Old Fashioned that she wants to precede me
in death, that she could not endure the sorrow
of survival. I told her I too hoped that would be
the order of things, that I’d be glad to assist her
anytime she chose. We shared a laugh
and another cocktail, why not? But afterward,
when the rye made for her a short evening,
I conjured Genova’s aside, Memory is all
we have, and let its spectrum ripple inside me,
like the extra ice cube I’d sunk in my highball.

Easier to define what memory provides
for someone whose day’s end is likely
decades away. The irritation for me remains
the immediacy, fewer chances to forge new stories,
my need for nascent memory as clutching as
a shortness of breath, the lessening occasions
to do wondrous, dumb ass things
now that impulse and memory
are no more than the same.

Michael Darcher taught English for a quarter century at Pierce College, a community college in Washington state. His work has appeared in High Plains Literary Review, Green Mountains Review, and elsewhere. He has poems forthcoming in Evening Street Review and Crosswinds Poetry Journal, and a chapbook, Odd Comfort, forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.