When I Am An Old Woman

When I was in my early twenties, I had a friend who was in her early forties. She was the first person I knew who found the poem “Warning” by Jenny Joseph. You know the one that goes:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me…

(Find the rest of the poem here.)

Boy, we loved that poem. We each had framed copies of it, and we swore that we would not go gently into that good night. Like Jenny, we’d do just like we pleased.

Then as things often go, my friend and I went on our separate ways, and I forgot about the poem.

Until recently.

I’m staring my fiftieth birthday (50, y’all!!) square in the eye. It’s just two weeks from today. And this poem has popped back into my mind.

I looked it up and reread it. And somehow, I wasn’t as enthusiastic about it now as I was some 25 years ago. It just didn’t seem to apply anymore. Probably because it was written in 1961 — eight years before I was even born.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought about how my own poem would go. So inspired by Jenny and her purple and her red, I decided to write my version.

Now I’m no poet. But maybe I will become one. You tell me. Here it is:

When I Am An Old Woman

When I am an old woman, I will wear Doc Martens 
And pearls, possibly with a muumuu
but definitely no bra.
I will draw the lines and color inside them
And outside them
And all around them.
I will run naked through the woods
And not worry about ticks
Or chiggers
Or snakes.
I will eat ice cream for breakfast and pancakes for dinner
And let olives soaked in gin be my green vegetable.
I will love that my thighs jiggle when I dance
And that my belly jiggles when I laugh.
I will adore the scars
And the wrinkles
And the grays
That tell the story of a life well-lived.
Sort of.
I will have all the fancy pens and pencils.
All of them.
And my words will flow through their tips
And onto the page
Like a waterfall cascades down a mountain.
I will ride a bicycle with no helmet
On the sidewalk
In the city
In the dark.
I will let my hair grow down to my ass
Or as far as it will grow
And not tie it up
Or down
Or back.
I will try to like children
And they will try to like me
And we will come to our own understanding
Of each other
And have a picnic
At The Plaza Hotel.
I will be ladylike when I want to
But not because I have to.
Or maybe I won’t.
I will be loud,
And I will be heard.
I will march in protest and kneel in solidarity
And in prayer.
But not today.
Today there are bills to be paid and work to be done
And examples to be set.
I will wear the heels and the suit
And the pearls.
I will smile sweetly to your face
And keep my thoughts to myself.
And I will try not to embarrass my family
Because today I am not old.
But one day I will be.
So don’t be surprised if you see me wearing Doc Martens
And pearls, possibly with a muumuu
And definitely no bra.

7 thoughts on “When I Am An Old Woman

  1. So glad to see your post. It was excellent. and at 70, I think better than the original. Happy (almost) 50th Birthday!

Leave a Reply