But I Was So Much Older Then, I’m Younger Than That Now

April 27, 2012 § Leave a comment


The toilet’s clogged and the handyman looks at me sadly. “What fell into the toilet?’

“Nothing,” I say.

“Something did. Something big. The snake can’t get it out.”

I don’t know why he thinks I would drop something big—My hairbrush? The cat?— into the toilet and then just flush it as usual. I’m neither that stupid nor that squeamish. It’s more likely the troll that lives in the plumbing system, but management doesn’t like to hear about that. I didn’t believe in the troll either, until I got curious as to why Fitzroy was always gazing into the toilet so I snuck up on him once (he jumps down hurriedly if he hears me) and saw that leering, toothy face, whiskery lips, tongue out and wagging alluringly at my bored kitty…

Boredom is a problem around here. Late night walks in the hall have become a normal, which is to say required, part of the feline lifestyle. They can tell time, more or less, and remind me, often painfully, if I happen to be absorbed in something else come midnight. So I let them out, and leave the door ajar, and usually they’re back in five minutes and five minutes after that want to go out again. It was better when it was a big adventure, when I was introducing them to the huge and pungent world of invisible people. They especially liked sniffing under doors. Now they’re just addicts—always trying to recapture the buzz of the first time. I feel for them. I remember being young and restless. No good saying, “It’s better than being old and achey.” When I used to imagine myself at this age, I thought: that won’t be me; that will be someone else.

My sister’s 60 now. This means I’m younger than that. I remember my mother saying, when I was a child and complaining that my sister would always get to do things before I did and it wasn’t fair, that someday I’d be glad to be the younger one. Am I glad now? It doesn’t seem to make a difference. The way in which I feel much younger than she is—my life a mess and mystery, at least in regards to where I will live, what I will do for money, etc—is at once scary, embarrassing and oddly exhilarating. As I said to someone recently, “I was retired in my 20’s.” I traveled some, read a lot, worked when I wanted to (which was every morning, but only for 3 hours) and didn’t have to worry about money. Now I get to do the anxious youth thing, clawing at opportunity, having no idea what’s ahead.

Well, we don’t, do we. And it’s easier, for me at least, to claw and grovel now that I don’t really care what people think of me, or what I think of myself, for that matter. I was talking to a woman at a poetry reading last night—older than I am—and she said she hated having to do publicity for her books, it just wasn’t her, etc. And I said, “I used to feel that way but now I’ll do anything.” I got a look—I’m used to that look. People hold their dignity close. My dignity was only fear. I’m happier without it.

It isn’t entirely true that I’ll do anything. I haven’t committed to Twitter yet. But I’m still younger than my sister.

Mouchette is doing bed ballet to get my attention, lying on her back writhing soulfully, legs akimbo.  If I pat her, she’ll come shed all over the laptop. Someone told me that when he took his laptop to be fixed, he was told, “Cat hair in the computer is not covered by warranty.”  Luckily I only rent this apartment, so whatever is in the plumbing is not my problem.


a woman precedes me up the long rope,

her dangling braids the color of rain.

maybe i should have had braids.

maybe i should have kept the body i started,

slim and possible as a boy’s bone.

maybe i should have wanted less.

maybe i should have ignored the bowl in me  burning to be filled.  maybe i should have wanted less.

the woman passes the notch in the rope

marked Sixty. i rise toward it, struggling,

hand over hungry hand.

–Lucille Clifton

And in French and Portuguese (since the translations happened to be provided where I found the poem). For my devoted readers, A and B.


une femme me précède vers le haut de la longue corde, elle  balançant tresse la couleur de la pluie peut-être que je devrais  avoir eu des tresses peut-être je devrais avoir gardé le corps j’ai  commencé, mince et possible pendant que l’os d’un garçon peut-être  je devrait avoir voulu moins peut-être je devrais avoir ignoré la  cuvette dans moi brûlant pour être remplie peut-être moi devrais  avoir voulu la moins les passages de femme l’entaille dans la corde a  marqué soixante. je me lève vers elle, luttant, remets la main  affamée.


uma mulher precede-me acima da corda longa, ela que dangling trança a

cor da chuva talvez que eu devo ter tido tranças talvez eu devo ter  mantido o corpo eu comecei, slim e possível enquanto o osso de um  menino talvez mim deve ter querido menos talvez eu devo ter ignorado a  bacia em mim que queima-se para ser enchida talvez mim devo ter  querido a menos as passagens da mulher o entalhe na corda marcou  sessenta. eu levanto-me para ele, esforçando-se, mão com fome do  excesso da mão.


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