Why Do We Age?


Is it the moon, the sun,
the pull of Mars or Jupiter,
the movement of the great whales
as they migrate beneath the waves?
Not even Walt Whitman could tell us
although he could tell us more
about youth and living and loving
than anyone else with just a couplet.

Remember “Unscrew the locks from the doors,
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs”?

And what can I tell you about growing old?
That I’ve been to the circus and I’ve seen
the big top from the inside and know
that the sky of stars inside the tent is the circus?

That there are things I am giving up
as I move toward my 69th birthday:
things like worrying about silence and flatulence,
the reworking of old puzzles,
the problems God sets before all of us?

That my mother loved to hold my hand
when we were walking to the park
and it broke her heart when I told her
I was too old to do that?

And what else can I tell you about aging?

That my father loved to listen to me
talk to him in English even though
he didn’t understand a word?

That once I sat next to a dying friend
who kept weeping and whispering something
about sand and water that didn’t make sense?

That all I could do for him was sing a song
that I hoped he remembered, something
about hoping that all his rambling
had brought him love and joy?

That you can smell the human gases
coming off of dead bodies: hydrogen sulfide,
methane, and yes, cadaverine,
sweet, sweet cadaverine?
And still there’s always the same question:

Why do we age?

At night you cannot see the dust
Or the paint chipping.
It is all hidden behind the stars.

Keys are worthless, locks can’t be
Unlocked, and still you have to walk
through the door.  There is nowhere else.

You have to walk through the door.


Photo by David Olimpio.

Listen to this Poem:

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About Author

John Guzlowski’s writing appears in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, Rattle, Ontario Review, North American Review, Salon.Com, Atlanta Review, and many other print and online journals here and abroad.  His poems and personal essays about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany and refugees making a life for themselves in Chicago appear in his prose and poetry memoir, Echoes of Tattered Tongues (Aquila Polonica Press). Road of Bones, his novel about two German lovers separated by war, is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press.  Of Guzlowski’s writing, Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz said, “He has an astonishing ability for grasping reality.”


  1. Lovely John. We all will walk through that door–sometimes I think, How hard can it be, everyone does it??? Like death, aging is one of those common mysteries, whether done gracefully or fought tooth and nail, we still wonder–How did this happen??

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