Give me mess, give me murk

poem is on fence post


Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging

by Carl Adamshick


I have more love than ever.

Our kids have kids soon to have kids.

I need them. I need everyone

to come over to the house,

sleep on the floor, on the couches

in the front room. I need noise,

too many people in too small a space,

I need dancing, the spilling of drinks,

the loud pronouncements

over music, the verbal sparring,

the broken dishes, the wealth.

I need it all flying apart.

My friends to slam against me,

to hold me, to say they love me.

I need mornings to ask for favors

and forgiveness. I need to give,

have all my emotions rattled,

my family to be greedy,

to keep coming, to keep asking

and taking. I need no resolution,

just the constant turmoil of living.

Give me the bottom of the river,

all the unadorned, unfinished,

unpraised moments, one good turn

on the luxuriant wheel.


Drop my husband into the middle of Carl Adamshick’s “Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging” and watch him head for the nearest exit. Overcrowded rooms, loud music, rattled emotions, people shouting and knocking over drinks and breaking dishes—that’s his version of a horror movie. As a man who values order, clean surfaces, and at least three feet of personal space, he’d want no part of the constant turmoil of living Adamshick so breathlessly extols.


I too have a physical reaction to this poem, but it’s more along the lines of dysphoric milk ejection reflex. If you haven’t gagged or stopped reading, let me explain that dysphoric milk ejection reflex is a feeling, a bad feeling, that a few unlucky mothers get just as breast milk comes down at the beginning of a feeding session. In the four years I breastfed my four babies, I experienced DMER thousands of times. For a few seconds I’d want to jump out of my skin, but that wasn’t enough, I’d want to jump out of the universe, I’d want to vomit out my total revulsion for everyone and everything. Existential disgust might come close to describing it. The feeling passed as quickly as it came, swooping in and swooping out like a flock of geese flying overhead in a small window of sky. The rest was lovely. Truly, I loved breastfeeding and the closeness I felt to my babies.. But DMER made me want to be completely, utterly alone.


My reactions are similar mixed when I read this—

I need them. I need everyone

to come over to the house,

sleep on the floor, on the couches

in the front room.


I feel like—No! Too much!  But then also—Yes! Fun!


I suspect Adamshick himself has a more nuanced feeling about this claustrophobic chaos than he lets on. The title tells us this poem is about aging. Few besides preteens long to age—the rest of us are trying to make our peace with it. Given that most people’s tolerance for noise and chaos diminishes with each decade, I get the feeling Adamshick is fighting to stay in the game, to feel alive. Strange that he wants to behave in some way that calls for forgiveness and leaves him feeling at the bottom of a river. What sane person wants that? What sane person wants to go to the bottom of a river? The bottom of the river is a scary place. It’s murky, brown, gushy. It’s a place where drowned bodies go.


But of course the bottom of a river is also a rich loamy place where plants grow. If in aging we lose energy for packed venues, for the messiness of other people and even for life, Adamshick calls us to a radical emotional openness. Dive back in the river, he says. The alternative is quieter but sterile and lonely, a death-in-life.


This poem called to mind another poem, Carl Sandburg’s “At a Window”—you’ll see why—


Give me hunger,

O you gods that sit and give

The world its orders.

Give me hunger, pain and want,

Shut me out with shame and failure

From your doors of gold and fame,

Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!


But leave me a little love,

A voice to speak to me in the day end,

A hand to touch me in the dark room

Breaking the long loneliness.

In the dusk of day-shapes

Blurring the sunset,

One little wandering, western star

Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.

Let me go to the window,

Watch there the day-shapes of dusk

And wait and know the coming

Of a little love.


Sandburg begins his poem with a request for an undesirable outcome—Give me hunger—and ends with a gentle plea we all can relate to—But leave me a little love. Adamshick begins with a re-creation of the love of family and friends and ends with a desire as unusual as Sandburg’s opening conceit: Give me the bottom of a river.  “At a Window” moves from gentle desperation to a wistful tenderness; “Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging” moves in the opposite direction, and in so doing, gives the impression of someone in the middle of a manic episode. But in a good way.


[As a bonus, in case you need a go-to line for birthday cards, Adamshick has you covered:: One good turn on the luxuriant wheel. ]


Carl Adamshick was born in Toledo in 1968 or 1969. (The Academy of American Poets lists both dates on its website.) He grew up in Illinois and moved to Portland when he was 21, where he still lives.


He worked as a printer and a private school teacher while publishing his poetry. He’s published four books and won the 2010 Walt Whitman Prize.


He was also the founder, editor and publisher of a publishing company for poets, Tavern Books. After accusations of financial improprieties, Adamshick left the company. You can read more about that mess here.


Let me end on a more positive note. In a 2014 PBS interview, Adamshick has inspiring words for Poem Elf:


“I write for this mysterious other that is going to stumble upon a book, whether in a library or a bookstore or on a website somewhere. I really want some mysterious other that I don’t know, some stranger, to read it and see it as a real piece of art.”






  1. Patricia Rawlings

    Hi sweet poetry lady! I loved this poem Adamschick crafted so much I just sent it via email to a dozen and a half friends…I GOT IT right off the bat–it fell into my mind like my rear onto a comfy, well-broken-in couch cushion….ker-plop……thanks so much! This one contains such an armload of wisdom it makes me gasp……

  2. Patricia Rawlings

    P.S. It reminds me a little of T.S. Eliot’s The Rock (1934):
    Where is the Life we have lost in living?
    Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
    Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

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