Week 545: Adjustment, by Molly Holden

I suspect that although they may been far more fortunate than Molly Holden in the matter of health, many people will still identify with the sentiments of this poem in one way or another. Personally it is a long time since I had any vanity about my appearance, but I confess to resenting bitterly the inevitable decline in my physical powers, such as they were. This was brought sharply into focus last month when I was laid low by an amazingly incapacitating attack of what turned out to be polymyalgia rheumatica, fortunately soon treated once properly diagnosed. I could myself manage nothing more dignified in response than an existential howl: ‘So only a month ago I could still do thirty pushups and run a decent 5K, and now I can’t even get up out of a f—king armchair!?’. Molly handles the subject with rather more grace and wit, though certainly with no less rue.


I thought my bones would last. Good bones I’d read,
preserve the beauty of an aged head,
and so I hoped my structure might remain
shapely, whatever age I might attain.

Skulls do not change but I’d not gauged the force
of time correctly, reckoned without the coarse
deposit of disease and grief – the double chin,
the softer jowls of middle-age, the cobwebbed skin,
that now have overlaid the thirtied grace
of what was once a pleasing enough face.

What the mirror tells me must be true. Shoulder,
breast, and sight confirm I’m getting older.

Now my portrait of myself must change, truth
forgo the bright advantages of youth.
My children see me comfortable and kind –
so there’s my present image right to mind.
Shape’s hoped endurance must be laid aside
and any slighter beauty that was cause for pride.

Now only I shall ever see
the fine-boned crone I’d thought to be.

Molly Holden


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