Your thoracic vertebrae
curl in a perfect quarter circle,
in a widow's hump that fits,
so small are you, almost within my hand.
(I've laid you on your side:
you'll never again in this life
lie comfortable on your stomach or your back.)
You'd think I was mocking
if I said you were beautiful, but you are,
ninety years and still undaunted;
if your spine is curled
like the frond of a fern,
and the skin of your shoulders
is like a rind of avocado,
still the skin that never saw the sun
is soft and unblemished, and answers any question
my fingers put to it. Age
takes less than we imagine.
You say it must be hard
to massage an old lady. I
deliberately misunderstand, and say that no,
what's hard is weight-lifters
with acres of muscle to get through:
Old ladies, I say, are easy:
this I could do all day. I let
a hint of mockery stand, let
quotation marks settle around "old ladies."
I am perfectly aware of you as woman,
and no, age neither threatens nor repels me:
I hope to get there myself someday, with luck.
My thumbs walk on the basketball curve
either side of the spinous processes,
sinking gently into the laminal groove,
finding little pools of pain you say
you didn't know were there. And this
is what everyone says to me,
whatever the curl of their spine,
however many years
they have been bowing over
This is not age, my dear one:
this is life.