Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Amazing Invisible Woman
Moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All,
I take a box
And add it to my wild rice, my Cornish game hens.
The slacked or shorted, basketed, identical
Are selves I overlook. Wisdom, said William James,
Is learning what to overlook. And I am wise
If that is wisdom.
Yet somehow, as I buy All from these shelves
And the boy takes it to my station wagon,
What I've become
Troubles me even if I shut my eyes.
When I was young and miserable and pretty
And poor, I'd wish
What all girls wish: to have a husband,
A house and children. Now that I'm old, my wish
That the boy putting groceries in my car
See me. It bewilders me he doesn't see me.
For so many years
I was good enough to eat: the world looked at me
And its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me,
The eyes of strangers!
And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile
Imaginings within my imagining,
I too have taken
The chance of life. Now the boy pats my dog
And we start home. Now I am good.
The last mistaken,
Ecstatic, accidental bliss, the blind
Happiness that, bursting, leaves upon the palm
Some soap and water--
It was so long ago, back in some Gay
Twenties, Nineties, I don't know . . . Today I miss
My lovely daughter
Away at school, my sons away at school,
My husband away at work--I wish for them.
The dog, the maid,
And I go through the sure unvarying days
At home in them. As I look at my life,
I am afraid
Only that it will change, as I am changing:
I am afraid, this morning, of my face.
It looks at me
From the rear-view mirror, with the eyes I hate,
The smile I hate. Its plain, lined look
Of gray discovery
Repeats to me: "You're old." That's all, I'm old.
And yet I'm afraid, as I was at the funeral
I went to yesterday.
My friend's cold made-up face, granite among its flowers,
Her undressed, operated-on, dressed body
Were my face and body.
As I think of her and I hear her telling me
How young I seem; I am exceptional;
I think of all I have.
But really no one is exceptional,
No one has anything, I'm anybody,
I stand beside my grave
Confused with my life, that is commonplace and solitary
“True Confessions: sometimes I'm so envious of certain people and certain things that it becomes a physical ache and presence in my body that threatens to choke me. Just sayin'.”
That was a status update I saw on Face book a few weeks ago and I boy oh boy do I understand this sentiment. My envy is pretty free floating but it’s usually focused in one direction and it pains me to admit I’m usually envious of younger women. Because I’m deep--like a mud puddle--and a living breathing archetype: Crone hates the Maiden. Ok, I don’t “hate” the maiden but I certainly wish--at times--I was the maiden again. I also wish I could be content with the “wisdom” and “knowledge” and “experience” being in the middle of middle-age has given me. But I’m not. I’m not proud of the crow’s feet around my eyes, the lines in my forehead, or the sagging flesh threatening to take over my entire body. I’m also acutely aware of just how invisible I’ve become. NOT that I was one of those young women who turned heads no matter where she was. I’m fully aware I appealed to people who liked a certain type of woman: not classically pretty but a little exotic and well turned out. At the same time, I don’t want to be one of those pitiful over blonde, over tanned, over dressed, cartoonish women who remind me of Blanche Dubois, one of the saddest middle-aged women in 20th Century literature. (well ok, Rabbit’s wife was sad too but that’s because she didn’t cap his ass but that’s another subject for another day) Whenever I find myself longing for my youth and in danger of becoming a caricature of Blanche I am reminded of this poem and the second saddest woman in 20th Century literature.
Jarrell was more known for his war poems describing WWII and wrestling with the futility of death during war. This poem, written late in his life, is uncanny in its description of what it is like to be a middle-aged woman. What’s ironic, is Jarrell was commenting more about alienation and isolation inflicted upon everyone post war, rather than meditating on what it must be like to be a fifty-something year old woman grasping for her youth. The first time I read it I was at the ripe old age of 32 and it scared me to think I might feel like this woman someday. Someday has arrived and I can fully relate to the narrator and her gray lined smile. Fortunately, I don’t feel my life is commonplace, confusing or solitary. But at times I do long for my youth and the time when: the world looked at me and its mouth watered. How often they have undressed me, the eyes of strangers! And, holding their flesh within my flesh, their vile Imaginings within my imagining. . .” I have past this time of my life and am now invisible to most people younger than myself. On any given day at any given moment I don’t feel my age and like many people I am my age going on twenty less years. I don’t feel like I’m in my late twenties because they were so fabulous and happy and wonderful. In fact, twenty years ago I was “pretty and miserable.” I believe what leads me to feel like I’m twenty years younger is my wisdom because I am learning what to overlook. I am also learning what it is like to be overlooked.
Whenever the idea of being overlooked depresses me I remember there is freedom in moving through life a stealth being. The first time I was keenly aware of my transparency was on a trip with my family in Greece. One day, I was on my own and aimlessly wandering around Corfu Town: drinking in the sites and completely oblivious to where I was going until I realized it was getting late and I was absolutely irrevocably lost and couldn’t see the port where the huge ship was docked. My first inclination was panic because I couldn’t even read the street signs to tell a cab driver where to pick me up. After a brief thirty second freak out in the middle of a residential sidewalk, I looked down a hill and spied a busier boulevard… Piece of cake, just walk down the hill, hope it isn’t in the wrong damn direction, find a café, pull out my Greek flashcard with my: “I would like a taxi, please” phrase, stumble through a thank you and be on my way to the ship. Halfway towards the boulevard I noticed a group of men, turn the corner and walk up the hill. They were huddled together laughing and joking with one another as they walked. Oh hooray! I could save myself some steps and just show them my flash card for “where’s the port”. But as they got closer, I lost my nerve--the warnings of avoiding men in Greece and Turkey came back to me--and instead I nodded my head and said hello in Greek. They stopped speaking for a second and returned the greeting but didn’t stop or linger to size me up or strike up a conversation in feigned interest of who I was so they could chat up a pretty “girl“. It was like an epiphany! I was free! I could probably go anywhere on the planet unescorted and not be catcalled, wolf whistled or propositioned for anything aside trinkets, tours or drugs. Suddenly the world was a safer place. I pulled myself up to my full height and strode down the hill towards the boulevard. The street was as I expected, busy and peopled with all sorts of locals and tourists. On the street corner, I saw a group of obviously annoyed lovely young blonde women trying to politely extract themselves from the attentions of two considerably older Greek men. I wanted to laugh and point, mocking their dilemma with a victorious: “I‘m here all by myself and no one is annoying me! So put that in your nubile blonde pipe and smoke it chica!” I didn’t say anything but I did catch the eye of one and gave her a sad and empathetic half smile. Now, after remembering and savoring this poem, I would assure them the upside of aging was “moving from Cheer to Joy, from Joy to All”.
(if anyone knows the name of this photo please let me know, I found it openstock)