“Quickly Aging Here,” a poem by Denis Johnson

“Quickly Aging Here,” a poem by Denis Johnson—

1
nothing to drink in
the refrigerator but juice from
the pickles come back
long dead, or thin
catsup. i feel i am old
now, though surely i
am young enough? i feel that i have had
winters, too many heaped cold
and dry as reptiles into my slack skin.
i am not the kind to win
and win.
no i am not that kind, i can hear
my wife yelling, “goddamnit, quit
running over,” talking to
the stove, yelling, “i
mean it, just stop,” and i am old and
2
i wonder about everything: birds
clamber south, your car
kaputs in a blazing, dusty
nowhere, things happen, and constantly you
wish for your slight home, for
your wife’s rusted
voice slamming around the kitchen. so few
of us wonder why
we crowded, as strange,
monstrous bodies, blindly into one
another till the bed
choked, and our range
of impossible maneuvers was gone,
but isn’t it because by dissolving like so
much dust into the sheets we are crowding
south, into the kitchen, into
nowhere?

An authentically modern country (Michel Houellebecq)

At no moment in human history does growing old seem to have been a pleasure cruise; but, in the years preceding the disappearance of the species, it had manifestly become atrocious to the point where the level of voluntary deaths, prudishly renamed departures by the public-health bodies, was nearing 100 percent, and the average age of departure, estimated at sixty across the entire globe, was falling toward fifty in the most developed countries.

This figure was the result of a long evolution, scarcely begun at the time of Daniel1, when the average age at death was much higher, and suicide by old people was still infrequent. The now-ugly, deteriorated bodies of the elderly were, however, already the object of unanimous disgust, and it was undoubtedly the heat wave of summer 2003, which was particularly deadly in France, that provoked the first consciousness of the phenomenon. “The Death March of the Elderly” was the headline in Libération on the day after the first figures became known—more than ten thousand people, in the space of two weeks, had died in the country; some had died alone in their apartments, others in the hospital or in retirement homes, but all had essentially died because of a lack of care. In the weeks that followed, that same newspaper published a series of atrocious reports, illustrated with photos that were reminiscent of concentration camps, relating the agony of old people crammed into communal rooms, naked on their beds, in diapers, moaning all day without anyone coming to rehydrate them or even to give them a glass of water; describing the rounds made by nurses unable to contact the families who were on vacation, regularly gathering up the corpses to make space for new arrivals. “Scenes unworthy of a modern country,” wrote the journalist, without realizing that they were in fact the proof that France was becoming a modern country, that only an authentically modern country was capable of treating old people purely as rubbish, and that such contempt for one’s ancestors would have been inconceivable in Africa, or in a traditional Asian country.

From Michel Houellebecq’s novel The Possibility of an Island.

“How to Be Old” — May Swenson

ms

“The Tea Shop” — Ezra Pound

ezra

“Quickly Aging Here” — A Poem by Denis Johnson

“Quickly Aging Here,” a poem by Denis Johnson—

1

 

nothing to drink in
the refrigerator but juice from
the pickles come back
long dead, or thin
catsup. i feel i am old

 

now, though surely i
am young enough? i feel that i have had
winters, too many heaped cold

 

and dry as reptiles into my slack skin.
i am not the kind to win
and win.
no i am not that kind, i can hear

 

my wife yelling, “goddamnit, quit
running over,” talking to
the stove, yelling, “i
mean it, just stop,” and i am old and
2

 

i wonder about everything: birds
clamber south, your car
kaputs in a blazing, dusty
nowhere, things happen, and constantly you

 

wish for your slight home, for
your wife’s rusted
voice slamming around the kitchen. so few

 

of us wonder why
we crowded, as strange,
monstrous bodies, blindly into one
another till the bed

 

choked, and our range
of impossible maneuvers was gone,
but isn’t it because by dissolving like so
much dust into the sheets we are crowding

 

south, into the kitchen, into
nowhere?

“Twenty-nine Clouds” — A Passage on Aging from Malcolm Lowry’s Novel Under the Volcano

A passage about aging from Malcolm Lowry’s devastating novel Under the Volcano

Twenty-nine clouds. At twenty-nine a man was in his thirtieth year. And he was twenty-nine. And now at last, though the feeling had perhaps been growing on him all morning, he knew what it felt like, the intolerable impact of this knowledge that might have come at twenty-two, but had not, that ought at least to have come at twenty-five, but still somehow had not, this knowledge, hitherto associated only with people tottering on the brink of the grave and A. E. Housman, that one could not be young forever — that indeed, in the twinkling of an eye, one was not young any longer. For in less than four years, passing so swiftly to-day’s cigarette seemed smoked yesterday, one would be thirty-three, in seven more, forty; in forty-seven, eighty. Sixty-seven years seemed a comfortingly long time but then he would be a hundred. I am not a prodigy any longer. I have no excuse any longer to behave in this irresponsible fashion. I am not such a dashing fellow after all. On the other hand: I am a prodigy. I am young. I am a dashing fellow. Am I not? You are a liar, said the trees tossing in the garden. You are a traitor, rattled the plantain leaves. And a coward too, put in some fitful sounds of music that might have meant that in the zolaco the fair was beginning.

“I Don’t Feel Any Wiser” — Philip Roth on the Myths of Aging