My oldest asks how one knows
when things that aren’t metal or people
get old, and he is four, so I do not say:
Books fox. Clocks lose time. Flowers
molt and bricks mislay their edges.
I do not say, as decay takes
the toothsome pumpkin, so days
starch worms and rubber bands
beyond all human use. I do not say that apples
prune, holding cider under their skin.
Nor do I mention leather (it puckers, then
suppurates) or dinner mints (candied dust, to dust
they must revert). And never worker bees (turned idle
and mean by first frosts) and never motors
that won’t turn over or motors that idle too high.
Sixty seconds in, and I am trying to guess
what snaps the floss that lights glass bulbs
and why dress pants go shiny at the knees,
dullness being more common: sun blots the color
from curtains, and frescoes pale, aging angels.
Of course it startles me, how ready I am to explain
that when old cameras leak light, a sidling fire takes
first a grandmother, then a child. But I don’t say it.
Instead, it depends, I say. And toys, he says,
how do you know when toys get old?