Sunday, October 11, 2009


By Jenny Joseph

"When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple."

This poem from my British/American literature class reminded me of a portion of reading from my Women and Minority writers class. We are reading Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather. In the story Mrs. Blake goes to visit Mandy Ringer and describes her in this way:

"Now, Mandy Ringer had lived a hard life, goodness knew, but misfortune and drudgery had never broken her spirit. She was as thin as a grasshopper, and as lively as one. She had probably never spent a dull day. When she woke in the morning, she got into her calico dress in a flash and ran out to see what her garden had done overnight. Then she took a bucket and went to milk Sukey in the shed. Her son, though he was a cripple, would have done it for her, but in that country it was a custom for the women to do the milking. Mrs. Ringer wouldn't have trusted either of her two daughters to take care of Sukey. That little white-faced cow kept the log house going when everything else failed, and her calves brought in the only actual money the old woman ever saw.

"Mrs. Ringer was born interested. She got a great deal of entertainment out of the weather and the behaviour of the moon. Any chance bit of gossip that came fer way was a godsend. The rare sight of a strange face was a treat: a pedlar with a pack on his back, or a medicine-vendor come from across the Alleghenies with his little cart. Mrs. Ringer couldn't read or write, as she was frank to tell you, but the truth was she could read everything most important: the signs of the seasons, the meaning of the way the wood creatures behaved, and human faces. She once said to Mrs. Blake when they were talking things over: "It the Lord'll jist let me stay alive, mam, an' not put me down into a dirty hole, I kin bear anything."

"She had borne a good deal, certainly. Her son was a poor cripple, and both her daughters had been "fooled." That seldom occurred twice, even in the most shiftless households. Disgrace to the womenfold brought any family very low in that country. But Mandy Ringer couldn't stay crushed for long. She came up like a cork,--probably with no better excuse than that the sun came up. Her spirits bubbled intoe th light like a spring and spread among the cresses."

I realized and wrote recently about the fact that because I am the baby in the family, I've never had the joy/plague of dealing with younger siblings. I've not had much experience with kids. In a similar way, I realized, I haven't had much interraction with the elderly either. Sure, we sang songs at nursing homes and I have grandparents, but I didn't grow up with older people in the house or learn directly from them. Basically, I've been selfishly consumed with myself and my generation for most of my life.

My boyfriend Jeremy has a younger sister and close relations with his spunky grandmother whome he spent considerable time with growing up. My friend Rachael has two younger sisters and more contact with her grandma then I could ever claim. Other friends of mine talk about their grandparents like a sibling that they know well. I feel like I kind of missed out.

I'm developing my own theory on what it means to age, to progress, to get old. I'm sure this definition looks differently to everyone. But as Sierra and I decided last week, "We are going to be freaking awesome old ladies." We feel somewhat removed from the fun and silliness of what it means to be a college student. Maybe we think too much, maybe everyone else thinks too little. We haven't quite decided yet. But either way, we feel like we are having our midlife crisis's about 20 years early. We hope that somehow by becoming familiar with and battling the demons in our head early, we are possibly ahead of the game, or at least that's what we like to think to make ourselves feel better and less ancient and boring.

Warning to the 21st Century
By Heather Bohlender

"When I am old, I will wear sundresses and chunky jewelry
that you can only find at Goodwill.
I shall spend my retirement money on coffehouse chai lattes and good reads
and bohemian clothing and say we've no money for cable TV.
I will sit in the grass when I'm tired
and eat samples at Whole Foods market and pull fire alarms
and whistle whatever I like, wherever I like
and make up for a repressed, conservative childhood.
I'll go barefoot in the rain
and pick flowers in other people's gardens
and learn to dance hip-hop.

I might not answer the phone, or emails, or Facebook comments.
I won't keep up on the news and current events
and who's dating who
and who said what.
The computer may get dusty and people will say,
"We can never get a hold of you," to which I'll reply,
"Did you try stopping by my house or writing a letter?"

I can model ridiculous hair styles
and consider wrinkles a sign of a life well-laughed
I will only exercise by strolling through parks or playing Ultimate frisbee.
I can eat macaroni and cheese
or only peanut butter and jelly for a week
and hoard cosmetic samples from department stores
and kitchen gadgets that I have no use for.

But for now I have to dress in earth tones
and pay my bills and not say, "Hell" for fear that I'll end up there
and set a good example for womankind.
I should be social on weekends and get an education.

But what if I started now?
I wouldn't want to shock everyone once I get there.
When suddenly I am old, and the sundresses come out."


Trina Yeo said...

Heather! i love these poems. You are wonderful, and so inspiring :)

Michael said...

That last verse kills! Seriously, great job.

Check this poem out...thought you might enjoy it. One of my favorites.

"What Do Women Want?"
by Kim Addonizio

I want a red dress.
I want it flimsy and cheap,
I want it too tight, I want to wear it
until someone tears it off me.
I want it sleeveless and backless,
this dress, so no one has to guess
what's underneath. I want to walk down
the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store
with all those keys glittering in the window,
past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old
donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers
slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly,
hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders.
I want to walk like I'm the only
woman on earth and I can have my pick.
I want that red dress bad.
I want it to confirm
your worst fears about me,
to show you how little I care about you
or anything except what
I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment
from its hanger like I'm choosing a body
to carry me into this world, through
the birth-cries and the love-cries too,
and I'll wear it like bones, like skin,
it'll be the goddamned
dress they bury me in.