Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 4
Fall 2011

Now Past the Age of Active Ambition

Jack Marshall

Now past the age of active ambition,
the time had come like autumn’s brief
burnt surge of gold-leaf flaming in the open.
In the slow, low-lit end of day
which spotlights things in one long beam
before they fade,
and like the aging lust
for the girls going by is 
lust kept alive most
with makeup and lipstick, autumn 
hoards dimming light, blossoms, 
leaves, birds. Everyone 
is in their late period and tells
in plain style their end tale:
imagined peril proven real
as the smell of holy smoke
in the stench of salvation’s
moneyed speech in public,
and greed, graft, lobbying remain legal
under federal law, like the NRA’s fingers
gripping like tits the talons of the bald eagle.
Before the future allows
misery to be done with,
must the present’s health grow
more rich with that pale stare
you see of helpless pitying which one
creature gives another
on seeing it in mortal pain?
Ill, old, slow enough to take the moment in, 
we’ll go through this again and again,
like the countless in crises at home 
and abroad, bedridden bodies warred over 
by drugs and pain.
Out of things done or undone, I
wonder, of what I knew then, what 
I could have done differently.
But it’s too late for the done
demolitions and wildly fulfilled 
deeds of an evening in the past to be undone.
If wishing is certain
to make it
not happen,
the way to go is not to wish at all
or want this kitschy Turkish dish
sprinkled with gall
always at the point of maximum 
stress, each cascading moment newly 
arrived, tumbling off rungs
like seraphim seeking asylum—
frail, fading, or flickering fire alive—
hell-bent on the present.


“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury