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 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 on 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?
I’m not average (nobody is)
so give me a number, do me the sums.
So Google found me a questionnaire
and I answered 40 questions
and I waited for the verdict
in a funk.
“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.
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.
Then I ran out of steam
and 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
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
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’ve still got time for a new career
like a ballerina or an engineer.
I knew all about old people
you see them everywhere
but in a million years I never dreamt
one day I would be them.
MP3 recording of this poem (slightly different version)
Poem and recording CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine