It was my 60th birthday last week. My friend Kate embroidered a cushion cover for me, inspired by a poem I wrote some time after my parents died. It's about shedding a skin, about transformations and how we often move through them in a slow way, even if it is a sudden event that catapults us into them. After my parents died it felt as if my brain was being reprogrammed to take in new information I hadn't encountered before: the vacuum death creates, the absence of people who had been always there. It took time.
This birthday watershed is different; obviously I knew it was coming. I think I have been moving slowly into it for a few years and have now arrived at a gateway I am prepared to step through cleanly. It feels like an exciting time. This stage of my life is less mapped out than those that went before: the insistent rhythms of school, university, job and childcare are absent. There are many experiences to be gathered in, a second flowering feels possible..
Reading through my snake poem again it seems in tune with my New Year perception of gradual but persistent change:
If I Were A Snake
If I were a snake I could shed my skin easily,
No, not easily perhaps, but quickly,
It would be like taking off a tight coat
In a small space
And being revealed in my smartest clothes,
Freshly-purchased, cool and colourful,
Ready to introduce myself again,
If I were a snake, I’d think little of it,
I’d have been born with an instinct for change,
A talent for it, I’d have moved swiftly
Through all manner of deaths and entrances,
But being human my skin sheds differently;
It scales, exfoliates, delicately
In its own time, as soft and silent in its falling
As flakes of snow.
Long before death, parts of my body
Have become dust, hovering and settling around me,
Particles of the past.
Being human, shedding my whole skin
Would be violent - unviable. Imagine
Uncovering the dark and secret throbbing of the heart,
The lungs’ bloody, tidal rhythm,
The fat and frantic traffic of the gut.
How could I survive without a barrier of skin,
Of soft and subtle hide?
I choose then the human way,
To move towards this new beginning,
With gossamer steps, an unfurling so gradual
That time itself seems frozen.
As gently and silently as drifting snow,
I move out of my old skin, discard the past,
Let it hover, then disperse,
Lightly dusting the future.