The Ageing Woman as Alchemist
by Abigail Wyatt

Dry souls are wisest and best. — Heraclitus

These days, more and more, I wear my pointed hat
and care nothing for those striplings who would mock me.
Close-closeted, by night, I inscribe my coded symbols,
hear the voices of my ancestors whisper on the air.
I prepare, I prepare: by slow degrees, I engage in the piece work of      starlight:
projects, novelties excite me less as the children of Nyx draw me in.
And in time, too, I will build me a fire of dry twigs and the skeletons of      leaves.
I will burn off in clouds of simple steam all that great weight of the too      long unforgotten
that pulls me ever deeper down: passions that bit deep, the wellspring
of old griefs that pollute my noisome soul with their clamour.
No more will I be tethered to this teeming swamp:
hollowed out, my heart burnt out, now I am for burning away.
And, as old glue dries to dust, these days I find I cannot adhere to      things;
left without substance, without juice and flesh, the bones of my being      are laid bare.
Stripped of my follies, my prides, my tears, I am reduced to the rock salt      of my knowing.
I fear a few grains are all the wisdom there is. See, it is blown upon the      air.

IMAGE: “Adoration” by Erté (1892-1990).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem just over a year ago and first performed it at a reading given as part of the Penzance Literary festival. Around that time I had been increasingly aware that I had entered a new phase in my life. I stopped colouring my hair, grew my new, grey hair longer, and began to concern myself both less and more with the business of who I was and what I wanted. What I am discovering is that I need fewer things but, more and more, I resent spending time on the banal and the trivial. I also know now that there is little ‘peace’ in older age since inwardly — and often outwardly too — I rage against cruelty and injustice. It is as much the job, of the elders, I think, as it is of the young to remind the community what where they may be compromise and where there can be none.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Abigail Wyatt writes poetry and some short fiction. She lives in Cornwall but has waking dreams of moving to South Pembrokeshire in Wales. Cornwall is lovely but she has been there a long time and her life has become noisy and stressful. New horizons and new challenges beckon. Another metamorphosis.

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON HER PHOTO: Me at the turn of this year: badger hair but the same blue eyes. The trouble is, as my grandmother once told me, you never feel any older.