My mother said that seventy years
is plenty of years and after that
you’re a nuisance a mistake
you’re a burden to the state.
So when I hit seventy I noticed the date
but mothers are allowed to be wrong about stuff
some of the time, that’s fair enough
and the seventies turned out to be
a sweet spot, at least so far, at least for me
until I looked around and all I could see
was other old people trotting along like me
and I thought Uh oh, you mean there’s more?
But how much more? To be precise
how many years am I meant to live?
the average woman of my age
will live to 84 but hey
I’m not average (nobody is)
so give me a number, do me the math.
So Google found me a questionnaire
that I trusted to offer a pretty good guess
and I answered 40 questions
and I waited for the verdict
with existential angst and strangled breath.
“Based on your answers you are likely to die
at the ripe old age of 99.”
And I said No, that isn’t me
I could almost imagine being 83
but 99 I’ll never be.
Let’s try another questionnaire
a better one a proper one
let’s do the Mayo Clinic one
I’ll fudge the truth and get the truth
and surely I’ll die in the flush of youth.
Now what does the Mayo Clinic say?
Oh shit I’m heading for 98?
I stormed away from my stand-up desk
and flung myself with all my soul
into the sulk of the century
the ultimate apoplectic huff
short of actual apoplexy
for which you need a dodgy heart
and while I raged, my heart chuffed on and on
like a good old puffer train.
Two days later I settled down and I said to myself,
Well bugger that, it’s just a guess
and I might die the week after next
but it does make a certain sort of sense—
life expectancy on the rise
me with my excellent Girl-Guide habits
my good nutrition and education
me with a home and superannuation
me with phenomenal life-long luck
of lucky time and place and genes
it’s not so freaky to believe
I could survive to 99
whether I like it or not.
If so… if so…
I’ve still got a quarter of my life to go
so I’d better get my ducks in a row.
I thought I’d die in a rocking chair
everything normal for a few more years
then a sudden sit down and a quick let down
and that’d be dying done and dusted.
But now I have to brace myself, face the facts
face my fears and the bonus years
the years and years I never chose
and make them as good as I can.
I knew all about old people
you see them everywhere
but in a million years I never dreamt
one day they would be me.
MP3 recording of this poem
Poem and recording CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine