The Beatles at 80
The public still demands them.
Every four years, as if by rote,
it reelects them to the city council,
their names never on the ballot
but each one too dutiful with age
to turn down another invitation.
The city clerk lines them up side-by-side
on the dais,
the matching jackets still vivid in her mind,
polishes their name plates every Tuesday
and pours four identical cups of tea.
They file in, slowly, and the audience stands.
The men remove their hats
while the gray-haired women clutch flowers
(the city never runs out of flowers)
and their sons and daughters clasp hands dutifully,
their iPods filled with countless other bands
but knowing the stories about sexual awakenings
and the 45s hoarded in council flats.
It has been decades
since the last guitar was packed away,
longer still since the last recording session.
But they know the eyes still watch them
and the media still hungers for quotes –-
every few years bringing a new biography
or revisionist take on their sixties and seventies -–
and they do their best to use their power for good:
Yes, the charter schools need endowments.
No, plastic is bad for the wetlands.
Yes, we’re in favor of same-sex marriage;
we’ve always believed in peace and love.
Each one lives now
in his private compound,
their socializing limited to photo shoots
and meetings that drag until 1 a.m.
Every wardrobe change is a fashion statement,
every vacation to the East a pilgrimage.
When one falls ill or misses a vote,
the city braces itself again.
The bloggers tiptoe around the word breakup.
The editors finger the front-page layouts,
the ones headlined END OF AN ERA,
that they’ve held in check for half a century.
The crowd always, always, just has to look.
Published in Poetry Quarterly (Spring 2012)