Transformation and the Ineluctable Signs of Ageing
by Mary Kendall

This is not my first transformation. No, it happened way back when—six decades and then some, and I find myself no longer who I thought I was just ten, twenty or even thirty years ago. Those were other lifetimes, times I lived through, times I felt so alive, enjoyed, loved, and times I remember, but those were lives I knew I had passed through completely.

I have the evidence.

Now, going further back in time—forty or fifty years ago, it all begins to change. It starts to slow down—slow—slow—slow—as if someone has put a finger out and touched the spinning world—and now it slows down enough as if I must to look for a place to rest.

This viewing backwards makes me dizzy—dizzy—dizzy enough to want to keep traveling back to the end, which in fact is the beginning, and that would be sixty years ago. That brings me to when I was just eight. Eight. The age of reason begins at eight.

Eight was the transformation.

It was the year my father died. I didn’t quite grasp the words, “Your father is dead,” but I witnessed everyone around me weeping and sobbing, and at the wake, an old woman, whose name has long since disappeared, told me I must kiss my father as he lay there looking quite asleep.

It was then that it happened…or began to happen. I smelled the flowers for the first time when I stretched up and over to reach him. He was cold—cold—cold—no life there, and that was how it began. I leaned over and pretended to kiss him, but I did not. I knew he was gone, but I smelled those flowers there for the first time in that moment.

After that, it happened again a few days later. It began as—inevitably, unmistakably—the scent of flowers came—always out of nowhere—no flowers near me, inside, no breeze—but I knew he was there. I felt his spirit around me. I knew who it was. He came like that several times after that day, and then it stopped.

That was how this life changed.

I knew then for sure (yes, for sure, even at eight) that we aren’t here alone or for very long. We arrive alone, but as a visitor, not allowed to stay too long, but counting years in 365 day increments matters little when there is all eternity waiting for us after the next transformation, the final, inescapable metamorphosis when this uncomfortable body finally, inevitably, unavoidably learns it can—and must—finally—fly.

Now that is the real transformation.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: When I began this poem it was going to be a traditional free verse poem. As I was reading through the first rough draft, it began to transform itself into a prose poem of some sort, yet it insisted on line breaks and italics here and there. The poem took on its own life as it told my/its story based on an early experience of death—and subsequently, of life. It happened like this—at age 8—yet the experience had its own metamorphosis into its own story and poem. I think most poets write for those moments when they find their words change before them, creating something they didn’t set out to write, but arriving at the end, knowing this is the poem that was meant to be written all along.

IMAGE: “Dragonfly and Lotus” by Takahashi Biho (b. 1873).  (Note from the author: The dragonfly is my totemic insect.)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Mary Kendall is a poet who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She blogs A Poet in Time, and is the author of a chapbook, Erasing the Doubt, published this past spring by Finishing Line Press. Lately she has been focusing on the smaller Japanese poetic forms of Haiku, Tanka, Haiga, Tanka Prose and Haibun.