I began “Portrait of a Lady of a Certain Age" a couple of years ago and didn’t finish it. Back then, I thought there was no room for an anti-capitalist, genre-bending poem. Feeling rather anti-capitalist, I needed to return to the poem after November, 2016. I worked on the form, not wanting it to look like anything normal because I didn’t feel like anything was normal anymore, and extended it quite a bit. I wanted the poem to be a dreamscape that is not quite nightmare, then a waking where life still is surreal somehow. And I wanted the woman to be straddling the world of consumerism and disgust, I wanted her to be obviously black without calling her black. Lastly, I wanted it to look like prose, but not necessarily make sense as a prose form—not an essay, not quite fiction, and too long for a prose poem.
Portrait of Lady of a Certain Age
I’m in a department store in the women’s accessory section. Elevator music is playing, though I don’t think I’ve ever heard elevator music in a department store (or in an elevator) or anywhere and I’m looking at pairs of pantyhose, or tights, or Lycra or Spandex, and nothing is quite my size. Almost my size—too small or too large. I take folds of Nylon or Lycra or Spandex between my index finger and the tall finger and run my fingers along the smooth, tiny bumps. They won’t fit.
Someone is feeding me something sweet and they ask, “Do you taste the honey?” And I’ll answer, “Yes, yes, I taste the honey.” “Do you taste the brown sugar? It’s rich. It’s organic.” And I’ll say, “Yes, I do taste the brown sugar.” “And do you taste the vanilla?” “Yes, I do taste it. I taste the vanilla.”
My hair itches, but I won’t scratch. I hit my head swiftly with my flattened hand to disturb the scalp—the closest I’ll come to scratching. I either cannot mess my hair up because I’m going somewhere or because I am getting a relaxer.
I am breathing both silently and heavily. I am crying into my pillow. I shake lightly. I don’t want to disturb the person I am in bed with. I am not married. I do not know if there is someone in bed with me. I cry more because I do not want to die alone.
I wake up. I go to the department store and circulate through the men’s accessory section. I say to a clerk, “I want to buy a wallet, but I don’t want it to be leather.”