Sparing you from this month’s various ridiculous episodes — a bad experience buying an iPhone, anecdotes that would embarrass my dog or irritate my kids — I decided to try another glose, this one about aging. The glose is the poetic form where you quote four lines from another poet’s work, and those become the last lines of the four subsequent ten-line stanzas, with a rhyme in lines six, nine and ten. There have been several of these in this space. Here’s one inspired by T.S. Eliot’s so-called love song.

Glose for J. Alfred

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind?  Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

There was a restaurant in Austin with a two-story fork
plunging from the parking lot into the sky. Their radio
ad said, Find us at the fork in the road.  I wish it were
that simple. Fearing I’ll  miss both fork and road,
I meet with a psychic on Zoom. Tell me your questions,
she says, I’ll call your ancestors and see what’s foretold.
Will my children be safe? Will I stay in Baltimore?
Do I have to stop drinking? Will I write another book?
Can I still dream of love, or am I too crotchety and cold?
I grow old … I grow old …

My friend has been subtracting ten years
from her age for so long, she now believes what
her driver’s license belies. I have an opposite foolishness,
relying on my advancing dotage to explain
any lapse: forgetfulness, crankiness, Instagram
perplexity. Wasn’t I sharper than this? Certain she’d scold
me about the booze, that psychic summoned my mother.
Surprising her but not me, my sporty mom said it’s fine.
Beefeater for drinking, Boniva for shrinking. I’m sold.
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Over the years I have mastered the art of losing
weight. I started young, so now it’s a snap.
In the past ten years I’ve lost the same ten pounds
ten times. They lurk out back in the alley, drinking
peppermint schnapps. If my failures and sorrows
have left me half-anesthetized, half-crazy, if I reach
at night only for a little dog and a purring cat,
still I am no sad sack Prufrock: you won’t see me
counting coffeespoons, won’t hear me beseech
Shall I part my hair behind?  Do I dare to eat a peach?

Oh, I dare, all right. You know me. I look for the fork
in the road and I take it, tines and all. Like my friends
who are retiring, I too will retire. Though the one
who retired from helping people in Uganda still flies
to Uganda, the one who retired from house painting
is painting a house. Does this mean I will still teach?
Perhaps by Zoom, from my senior singles cruise to Fiji.
When I get to the coast to hear the singing mermaids,
to seek my fork, my road, all my beloved figures of speech:
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

As I reread Eliot’s poem, I noticed just what a wimp this Prufrock character is. I am hardly the first to remark on this; all of literary modernism is born in his ambient gloom, his yellow fog of agonizing yet superior interiority. But this time, it gave me a little flash of insight.

Many years ago, like in my 40s, I noticed that I really did not feel the thing that people often say they feel, “like a 12-year-old in a [40/50/60]-year-old’s body.” I don’t know if I ever felt like a twelve-year-old, even when I was a twelve-year-old. I had lived pretty hard through my youth, I had always had a few kooky, minor physical debilities, and I had been through an unusual degree of bereavement unusually young. Perhaps I missed this perfect moment of untarnished youth that I was meant forever to recall.

Or maybe I jumped into senior citizen-hood as a pre-emptive strike against time. Diving headfirst into senescence seemed like a way of escaping of the need to preserve some essential fair and feminine freshness I never thought I had in the first place.  So I pitched myself enthusiastically into the process, letting my hair go gray, babying my knees, going to bed super-early, acting stupid about new technology and pop culture. For excitement, I began to experiment with things like poaching eggs and baking bread without measuring the ingredients. just like hitchhiking — you never know what will happen.

When telling my age, I’m more likely to round up than down.

Something about this Prufrock fellow, though, his emotional frailty, his self-deprecation, his grating timidity and fastidiousness, has snapped me out of it. Instead of making common cause with him, I felt like backing off and reclaiming my vitality. In the rooms the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo. I’m with those ladies, coming and going, balancing flutes of brut rosé, thinking not of time, but timeless beauty.

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik is the author of "The Big Book of the Dead,” “First Comes Love,” and several other books, and the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her...

8 replies on “Eat a Peach”

  1. Many years ago you told me you were ready for days lying in bed reading and and watching Jeopardy like your mother was doing. That looked appealing. I was appallingly confused despite understanding the appeal. I still have those conflicting reactions but am determined we stay with the ladies.

  2. This is a story from an old friend although we never met. You did a bookreading at Women & Their Work many years ago, when I ran the GiftShop there. I knew we had things in common, but I never knew you could paint so beautifully! I saved your peaches to inspire me to use my talents somehow, now that I am retired. Thank you.

  3. Also joined the ranks of which you write, not thrilled to be in my 7th decade but prefer to “come n’ go” w/ brut rose, than the alternative, eh?

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