The Unknown Anniversary

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Birthdays, holidays, days that always come round,
Christmas and Easter, Ramadan, Yom Kippur,
Wedding days, celebrations of lovers or friends,
We mark them on calendars; they are always found
In diaries, rise regular as stars, are due to recur
Year after year; they are dates on which one depends.

But there is one other day, masked by the circling year,
A strange anniversary; nobody knows what it is;
Yet it waits for each one of us, destined, certain and true,
Unknown, yet we know for a fact that it has to be there
As it brushes the cheek with a cold, unconditional kiss
And whispers, ‘Be ready for me: I am ready for you.’

When we least expect it, it signals and no one knows why,
Flashes out to the zodiac as the planet turns round and round,
A day which is all your own yet you may not celebrate,
Like a private moon it already circles your sky,
Turning the same face toward you, attentive, profound,
Keeping watch like a lover each night beside your gate.

There it raises faint tides that rise and fall in your blood
It keeps but it does not observe the solar year,
For its secret clock does not run to a regular beat,
And refuses to sound the hours as a timepiece should.
Yet pressing my ear to the pillow each year I hear
The steady tramping of its remorseless feet.

Do you hear it, my love, their crunch on a rough country track
As we march on side by side? There is no trunk road to the grave—
Are we in step? Are you wondering which of the two
Will come first to the turn-off, and which one will not look back
When the other stands able only to watch and to wave
Before going on to the lonelier rendezvous?

The anniversary whose date not one of us knows
For the art to read that horoscope nobody learns.
It would be nice to celebrate in the usual way;
To be waked with a cup of tea and dew-fresh rose,
A kiss and a smiling: ‘Many happy returns!’
But it will not happen. It is not, of course, that sort of day.

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