Myself at Fifty. an Inventory

Article excerpt

let us start with the head * yes of course the head ever full of fancies and the hair on the head * white * scraggly * thinning white early * never any temptation to dye it so no worry now about when and how to stop a subject of conversation * a source of folklore the legend of how my grandfather's hair turned white overnight when he was nineteen as he rode through the night out Longreach way to reach a brother dying of snakebite scraggly always never a hairdresser who understood its limpness and cowlicks apart from the Adelaide genius to whom I said * Make me look like Jane Fonda in Klute and she did what hairdresser now would've heard of Jane Fonda let alone Klute thinning now * so the pink scalp shows

then the face * lovely at times * but not always * ever the nose always too red and now the grimness growing upon it the soft cheeks remain * the secret of them Oil of Ulan family lore handed down * through mother and aunt and sister women's business and the chin * and the hairs on my chin * once they were all dark now some are white and tough * like stubble in a hay field the shoots I seek out and pluck with mirror and tweezers and the light falling just right ten or fifteen minutes each morning when I could be doing sit-ups instead I stroke the chin all day long * its sandpaper feel just one of my habits * we all have habits don't we

but * not every woman has hair on her chin * with those do I feel a poignant complicity the neck * red furrowed blotched weather-beaten hidden under turtle necks and flowing scarves still I know it's there between the glowing face and the supple body the neck * is an old neck

the armpits * unshaven since 1970 * the hair long and fine

not every woman has unshaven armpits * with those who do I feel joyous solidarity

the arms and hands still slender the skin I say only looks wrinkled in certain lights in certain positions * an optical illusion * actually the fingers still clever with needle and pen * the wrists still steady I should do more with them * embroidery * silk screening * poetry

but * not now * not yet

the breasts * have slipped down the chest revealing a prominent breastbone I never knew I had from no bra I went to a soft bra * and now to an underwired one nice lace * lovely colours * but so uncomfortable Is it worth it * I ask myself * Why I will throw them away one day

but * not now * not yet

and meanwhile * at touch of lip or finger the nipples still wildly engorge * as always

the heart * under the left breast * pounds occasionally hurts occasionally * skips a beat it may be my father's heart which stopped on him suddenly one day on the way home from voting I should I suppose do something about it

but * not now * not yet

the torso * still shapely I'm told though the waist seems shorter now than in the long days when I took lovers' praise for granted a bad back my mother's spine asserting itself * in shrinking cartilage vertebrae collapsing * one on another like storeys of a tower in an earthquake kyphoscoliosis * compression fracture crush-and-wedging deformity * osteoarthritis these terms may become my familiars

but * not now * not yet

the belly * smooth * generous * a paunch in fact I fancy a few sit-ups will make it firm once more when I was twenty * I wrote a poem * expressing my shock at realising that death would not be transient like all else what about a pot belly * I hadn't even thought about that

and behind the belly * the gut * strong and deep * and sound the trusted bedrock of my being

and below the belly * the cut * where my womb was opened and the surgeon put his arms in up to the elbows so the friend who accompanied me on that day has told me to pull out the child the scar says to me * You are mother and to my son * You are hers

and behind the scar * the womb that lets fall still its load of menses calender-regular * as it has done since I was fourteen though now I log the times * and wait for the change like a weatherwoman * questioning her bones and her books for the onset of autumn

the pubic hair * greying * too much of it again straying down my legs bunching up over my mound forming long strands that stick out at all angles

not every woman has pubic hair down her legs if there were any who did I would feel with them * a desperate bond but it seems there aren't any * or else waxing works for them

and the genitals * rather a shock to see an angry expanse with a hairy rim when I wielded the duckbill speculum * and positioned the mirror in earnest self-discovery now I just feel the ripe softness * smell the strong scent the vagina is going dry * so I'm told

but * the rush of blood * the pulsing of orgasm is as strong as ever impossible to imagine that this will prove transient * whatever else I will be a randy old woman * I may be pitied in my lust

but * not now * not yet

the buttocks * the thighs * the legs * is where power lies the girl sprinter and long-jumper * still lives here * the mountaineer I have scars here too * of childhood games and one on my knee * where I fell in Chalatenango * returning to a guerrilla encampment under a load of supplies this is a scar * only visible in certain lights * to certain people that says

You are a veteran * You know the taste of defeat as well as victory and may not live long enough * to see the tables turn

and the hair once more * dark and curly that I let grow like wool in the winter * but shave in the summer

not every woman has shaven legs * for those who do not I feel immense admiration

the ankles nicely-turned * and then * the elegant feet the roughened skin of toe and heel the feet * that feel the pull of the earth where I stand this land * this place * this island * this continent * this world to which * now * and only now I have the chance to become reconciled

let us end with the feet

Eileen Haley