You notice them on campuses in early April, the maitre’ds
Of the future showing customers to their tables. It looks so hopeful:
Come join me, realize your dreams here in this library, this gym,
These classrooms where you can study Shakespeare or Peter Drucker

And above all Begin. And then of course it peters out: Is this
What you wanted to do, how you wanted to live, who you wanted to be?
I’m a sucker for regrets and retrospective disappointments, as in
Merrily We Roll Along, which begins with a tell-it-like-it-is cynicism

And works backwards to an optimism so naïve it makes you cry.
Sometimes I think I overdo it. If the point of disenchantment
Is to make it clear how literal life is, and how contingent
Even moments of transcendence are, there should be nothing to fear

From the future, even as the years go by and nothing happens
And one wish supplants another with a dying fall. And there isn’t:
Business used to be as dubious a major as history or English,
People muddled through to law school or advertising or Wall Street

And then wondered what had happened. There’s something
Comforting about rituals renewed, even adolescents’ pipe dreams:
They’ll find out soon enough, and meanwhile find their places
In the eternal scenery, less auguries or cautionary tales

Than parts of an unchanging whole, as ripe for contemplation
As a planisphere or the clouds: the vexed destinies, the shared life,
The sempiternal spectacle of someone preaching to the choir
While walking backwards in the moment on a warm spring afternoon.

© John Koethe