All Your Life

You’ll earn less than you feel you’re worth,
        Retire in debt;
Old faces framed above the hearth     
        Your name forget.

And, friends forget your failings soon,
        But not your wife,
Who carries them like an old tune—     
        Or sharpened knife.

You dreamed of politics and fame
       But that soon faded,
As no one liked you, though you claim     
       You’ve just grown jaded.

You shuffle off to work each dawn,
       In every season;
What little good you’ve come upon     
       Comes without reason.

Sameness and chance, catastrophe
        And empty hours
Will crowd out what you hoped would be     
        Health, joy, and powers.

You’ll read your children stories, teach
        Them how to pray;
But God and tale and all you preach     
        They’ll toss away.

Pythagoras had a golden thigh,
        The legends tell,
But yours of bone snapped with a sigh     
        That night you fell.

And though the doctor says it’ll mend
        With weeks in bed,
You’ve seen your whole life’s downward trend     
        Ends with you dead.

James Matthew Wilson

James Matthew Wilson is the author, most recently, of The Strangeness of the Good (Angelico, 2020). He serves as poetry editor for Modern Age magazine, series editor of Colosseum Books, and as director of the Colosseum Institute. He is the director of the MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Saint Thomas.

'All Your Life' has 1 comment

  1. October 22, 2020 @ 4:40 pm Cynthia Erlandson

    James, I can’t believe I didn’t see this till today! It’s beautiful! Is it your paraphrase of Ecclesiastes?


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