I Prepare to Face Fifty

      “I am middle-aged. Fifty is upon me. And I am faced by a grim reaper. But it is not youth I want. It is time. And there’s too little left. What shall I do about it? Shall I waste these remaining years on people who bore me, squander them on employments that satisfy no desires, sacrifice them to the ideas of others? No. I have wasted hours upon hours on nothing but waiting, days upon days on routine that led nowhere, and a tally of weeks on nonsense and so-called diversion.

      “I had an idea that in middle age somehow I should reach a hill and beyond it would lie a promised land. Enough merely to be climbing up. Suddenly now I realize the crown of that hill is age fifty. And I know that if there is a promised land it has got to be in front of me. If I don’t find it now I never shall. So I had better face this fifty, acknowledge it is gone — whether squandered or treasured — forever, and plan what to do with this promised land, how to spend these last precious years left to me.

      “From the brow of that fifty hill, suddenly I am beginning to compute time. Do I wish to spend so much of it in my remaining years on the pursuit of youthful looks, on this cult of youth? Perhaps I am a miser with my years, but I must confess that I can no longer see value received from pursuing youth. It will bring me no higher price for my work. It will make my husband no fonder; for affection after fifty rests on something other than complexion. It will not add to my emotional satisfaction nor to the pleasures of my mind. No, I shall not waste any of my remaining years on the pursuit of smooth pink cheeks. Nor will I waste my time or worry with weight, counting calories, or other such psychological-gastronomic engagements!

      “Frankly, I do not feel the same as I did twenty years ago. Moreover, I do not want to feel the same. These new feelings — may they not be an asset instead of a liability? I will not be satisfied if my remaining years are a mere repetition of those that have gone before. I want something different. I will not spend this time in an effort to produce an illusion to myself. I will be content to look my age, to dress my age, to live my age. I will appreciate all that life has brought me. I will face fifty cheerfully.

      “Do not take this to mean that I am negating its challenges. Fifty does not mean freedom from family demands nor from the things that we are tied to by duty. Fifty brings no alchemy that enables one to plan one’s life as one might try an uncharted sea. We will always have personal and financial limitations, and we can only alter our course according to the wheel in our hands, the craft under us, the shoals and currents around us. But what we may do is decide which direction to steer and how to get the maximum of enjoyment in the steering.

      “I must be economical of time. Each day must count. I must plan for the satisfaction that is possible here, now. In youth, always before us was that will-o’-the-wisp, perfection, because there was always the hope of time to reach it. That it was always to be to-morrow did not affect our attitude of mind — that of preparing, improving, developing. But gradually it has been made plain to me that this to-morrow will never come, that as I am to-day so shall I be twenty years from now. Yes, I may improve or grow in that time, but it will be along the line already laid out — I shall not change my style, my type, my talk. In the difference between acceptance of this fact and the belief that ‘all things are possible’ lies the difference between thirty and fifty, between youth and middle-age. To those of my contemporaries who still look for the Prince to ride up and disclose a crown beneath his fedora, who still expect pumpkins to turn to coaches, this seems a tragic difference.

      “May the acceptance of the truth of fifty bring its own joys. No longer do I need to pretend. I may say things frankly. I can accept myself as middle-aged, and therefore enjoy myself. I can squeeze the utmost out of what I am and what I have. I can relax from the struggle. I shall no longer punish myself. Instead of competing, I can create. I may choose what I like, including the colors that please me — that do something to my brain, if not indeed to my soul — rather than attempting to express the best in taste and fashion. No longer do I need to try to take everything as it comes, but select what I want. And please understand:  I am not retiring — I am attaining.”

—Emily Newell Blair (1877–1951), “I Prepare to Face Fifty,” 1926, abridged

Charged

suddenly my life feels
like the air before a storm
silent, searching, charged
an imminent disaster
with destructive beauty
bright sun here and now
dark clouds at my horizon

electrified waiting
a whirlwind of stillness
it’s building, billowing
but to i know not where
and possibly to nothing
no body to forecast
whether or whether not
my future lies ahead

feeling ghosts in the wind
restlessness & anticipation
i dread this storm
but somehow
more than that
i welcome it, ache for it

oh i sorely need to become
sodden, grounded
struggle bedraggled
so i can revive
regrow vibrant —

dead branches torn away
old beliefs ripped from roots
worry whipped to shreds
powerful bolts striking
stronger than anything
i can create myself

blind me — enflame my entire sky
i want to look at the world anew
and that starts
with my own vision
i’m ready
for a new version

my being has become torrential
yet minimal — nearly imperceptible
not yet in a crisis, still
i’m bordering one, circling it
crying out for that flash point
beckoning it, to break —
to shatter my former self
and my current nothingness
into a mended calm
risen from the storm

rain, gales, hail —
i don’t care
just let it come
i need to be reborn
from the wild remains
of my inner tempests —
no, i do not want to die
but only to live again

—Terri Guillemets

Alarm ringing true

There was time —
I know there was —
saw it spread out
all ahead of me,
a beautiful infinity —
immortal fresh-faced
clock of opportunity —
numberless, handless
no ticks & no tocks
save for the sound
of distant decades
too quiet to really hear —

but at forty-eight years
a sudden gear-grinding
cacophony, the outspread
blanket of eternity
has begun to suffocate,
wrapped around me
limiting my agility
darkening my path —

I’m having trouble
breathing, I no longer
see that clock open
or free, its movements
now deafen me, its hands
tear into my flesh and
grip tight my throat —

I am choking on
second thoughts
at this midlife hour
this day of reckoning

—Terri Guillemets

Weighed down

the scale now shows me
one hundred sixty-eight
but in those simple digits
I see rejection and pain
sugar, laziness, exhaustion
hormones splayed out of whack
menopause ready to rumble
plaque buildup and repressions
anxiety, regret, some depression
the past, the future, sheer panic
tension, disoriented expectations
ice cream, sweet junk addictions
griefs, hurts, disappointments
bad habits, cliffs, fear, falling
the eating of all my emotions
gluttony and gorging ghosts
turbulent raging blood glucose
sleepless nights, too-busy days
nerves, toxins, worry, age
unwelcome rapid-fire change
lack of trying, trying too hard
loss of control, culinary excesses
no longer fitting into my dresses

—Terri Guillemets

I accept you

Okay — I give in — I accept you — Middle Age
I am tired — I want to sit down — unrushed —
to read — and drink hot tea — and — Breathe
the number of years behind me — and ahead of me —
no longer concern me — mathematically or emotionally
I have come to rest in the sturdy arms of the Present —
where Time has been waiting for me — my whole Life

—Terri Guillemets

My heart sees all the better

my eyes can’t see as well anymore
but my heart sees all the better

my ears have begun to fail me
but I hear the quiet budding of success

I move more slowly now
but have learned to be still with myself

my aching body is stiff and sore
but my spirit has never felt so fine

my memory is slipping
but I’ve got a firm grip on what it is to live

my head is going gray
but I have found all my true colors

I get out of bed earlier
but still have plenty of dreams

I live more softly
but don’t back down from doing hard things

my teeth are getting artificially replaced
but my soul is real and all my own

my bones are brittle
but my resolve is strong

I no longer bounce back
but continue to look forward

I tell the same stories over and again
but become a new me every day

I’m nearer to the end
yet I have only just begun

—Terri Guillemets

Battery

my youth is caked over
with heartache and pains
regrets and inflammations
and sudden calcifications
of ligaments and spirit
not-bothers and defeats
that went to my head
and bruises that take
too long to heal
cracked teeth and
why-tries and i’m-tireds

that which galloped
now rolls in ruts
my blonde has passed
to mousy and gray —
everyone i know
looks tired and frayed
sagging from the weight
of time and overbusy
and too much stuff
in too-big houses —
it’s too much life
and too little living —
no vitamines will fix this

—Terri Guillemets