I dread it, getting old, but nowadays
it’s less frightening than usual. I try
acceptance, even comfort. There are ways
to cope. So I go to the dog park, lie
on biting blades of grass, young mothers’ wrists
slick, broken out in hives. Barely July
and more humid than ever. Kids do twists
two feet above their skateboards. Three tattoos
of skeletons on hairy calves. The trysts
we had when we were young, a woman, booze
in a canteen beside her, laughs. And me?
I’m with four ladies over 60, shmooz-
ing, nothing in common, we agree,
except our dogs and womanhood. I ask
myself: how did this kinship come to be?
Should I instead go shopping? Sleep? Or bask
in short pajamas, lounging in the sun?
I mean, I know that any household task
would pass the time. But this, this is the “fun
outing” I look forward to. There’s peace
in knowing that I’m not the only one
who’s sat reclined, her fingers doused in grease,
practically shoulder-deep inside a bag
of jalapeño Lays, beneath a fleece,
old comforter. Who’s had to walk zig-zag
between apartments trying to avoid
the men who follow, holler. The “red flag”
(or multiple) on dates. Middle-aged, Freud-
worshipping shrinks who say, “I can’t relate.
I met my man when I was 19,” void
of any sort of empathy. The weight
of foreign arms around our waists. I’m not
the only woman haunted by the state
of silence when a, frankly, smokin-hot
girl at the nightclub wearing double-digit
sizes, dabs her eyes amidst cheap shots
that catapult from strangers’ mouths. They fidget
with leather wallets, quip, “See? Every girl group
has a fat one.” What was her name? Bridget?
Jane? I wish I’d asked, taken a hoop
from my pierced ear and placed it in her palm.
I wish I’d said a goddamn thing. I stoop
when I remember it. Strawberry balm
(for lips) we pass among us, reaches broad
as cityscapes. Our firsts. Casual “bombs”
about our fucked-up families, dreams of Rod
Stewart in the 70s. But there
is still so little that I know of God
or sex or death, how my bare legs compare
to those of other girls my age. I want
to ask, beneath the sun’s relentless glare,
if shame remains not anything we flaunt
but rather, like a tired, passé rifle
we aim at our own lace-clad breastbones, taunt,
“you’re not quite good enough like her.” I stifle
a stutter, a strange question that would kill
the mood. In Ray-Ban shades, I catch an eyeful
of Ruth, beside me, 85. She’s still,
serene, her veins like threads around her neck.
When does it stop? What’s it? Waiting until
the sun goes down and others leave, I check
that she’s alive. I can’t explain just how
alive she is. Someday, I’ll have a speck
of what she has. It’s quiet, breezy now.
Two redheads, maybe fifth grade, eyes aglow,
toss kites into their sports car trunk and vow
that they’ll behave for ice cream. There is no
more bread left over, so ducks bid farewell,
returning to their ponds. “What’s next?” asks Jo.
“Drinking again?” “Oh, lady, go to hell!”
Ruth answers. We all laugh. A strange new cluster
of mismatched stars, we gather. I can smell
the newborn darkness, think about the luster
we women sometimes realize we possess
and sometimes don’t. I take my shades off, muster
a goodbye, and as I walk home, my dress
grass-stained and wrinkled, I decide to think
about the bassline of my thighs, the mess
of chipping toenail polish, months-old, pink,
the sweet crescendo of my waist, the way
my curls bounce as I cross the street. I drink
in soothing nighttime air. Maybe, one day,
when I am also older, friends have died,
I’ll stop giving a fuck—my tousled, gray
hair tied—about what doesn’t matter, stride
in admiration of life’s beauty. Streetlights.
Leaves. My key. I’m home. I go inside.
Alexis Sears is a graduate of the MFA program in poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she earned her Bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Writing Seminars. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Cortland Review, Hopkins Review, Cimarron Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She was a 2019 Sewanee Writers’ Conference MFA scholar, and she is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her full-length manuscript, Out of Order, was a finalist for both the Vassar Miller and the New Criterion poetry prizes.