Myself at Fifty: An Inventory

By Haley, Eileen | Hecate, January 1, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Myself at Fifty: An Inventory


Haley, Eileen, Hecate


Myself at Fifty: An Inventory

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

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