21st Birthday, July, 1990

I. Annunciation

In 1969, just the possibility of you
forced me to reconsider
the unwanted future I had imagined:
Ashes and waste, the eyes of starving children,
poisoned air, an early death for all;
the Void, universal and personal,
everything in ruin,
and the great emptiness inside of me, too.

It seemed criminal to make you share
my sentence, our sentence.
Our parents - were they crazy
to offer such an absurd hope,
to plant another flower in the desert?
And yet, there you were, little brother.

As I stood, then, where you are now,
about to be born into adulthood,
you forced me to give up,
or at least to loosen,
my grip on the dark vision of the garden of death,
that I had declared
as a wall against disappointment.

When I chose to accept you,
I knew I was claiming
the risk of my own future,
the danger of bringing myself,
and my own unborn children
into these uncertain years.

II. The View from Here

When I was growing up, 1990
was the future.
It was a cupboard where we kept
our daydreams and terrors.

But now, it's 1990 and I'm surprised,
like suddenly waking up,
to find myself living
in a different future.

Opening the door, I'm surpised
to find it filled with a jumble
of the miraculous and the commonplace,
the worn-out old, and the perplexing new:
holograms in my pocket, extra light milk;
bacteria with an appetite for spilled oil,
flowers blooming in Eastern Europe;
microwave dishes, chipped glasses,
and VCRs with artificial intelligence
far beyond our own.

I suppose you're used to these things,
growing up with them,
but I'm still amazed -
I didn't expect to be here,
and I didn't expect it to be like this,
the quiet moments with my children,
the sense of having made some difference.

And now, as you travel from youth to middle age,
as I did,
it's your turn to be amazed;
prepare yourself!

Copyright 1998 by Robert Elliott

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