How to Deal with a Mid-Life Crisis

Forget the tawdry fling with the big-bosomed tart
or the tumultuous affair with the woman who reminds you,
though you don’t know it, of the girl you danced your
first slow dance with in junior high
or the raucous nights out with the boys swilling
sentiments as pathetic as the glory stories of a pot-bellied jock
and don’t, whatever you do, go to Las Vegas—
cliches, all of them, cliches.

No, dig some steps into the side of a hill instead.
Start in early spring before the thaw settles
deeper than the holes you have to dig.
The soil should be rocky with roots
as tangled as your motivations for starting
this masochistic project in the first place.
Take your time, you’ve got all summer,
but don’t let inclement weather stop you.
The steps should not follow the shortest distance
between two points but wind like the curl of the worms
you expose to sudden light.
Set these worms gently to the side
but declare open season on the slugs lying in wait
for the hostas that will eventually garnish your mid-life masterpiece.

Level the timbers by eye, haul field stone from the old cow path
at the bottom of the hill in the black wheelbarrow with silver scratches.
Lean into it—thighs clenched, toes digging into the hill—lean into it.
Pack the gray moss-riddled stone into the side of the hill
dirt congealing the blood on your aching fingers
as your mindless mind wanders over the profound warnings
and encouragements you might place in a time capsule
for another man who might one day push a spade into this sacred soil.

Keep your eyes on the work and do not
glance up to the top of the hill where the hammock hangs
and your wife and, yes, lover, lounges
one arm draped over the side
a frosty glass of lemonade held in her small hand.
If you feel her bemused gaze, do not imagine it as triumphant,
but for the sake of sympathy it is permissible
to touch the small of your back and grimace slightly.
Take it the proverbial one step at a time,
until one hot summer day you reach the top
to bow, then touch what you trust
with your dirt-encrusted fingers.

—Robert Nordstrom, Mukwonago, WI