“On Turning Ten” – Billy Collins

On Turning Ten
Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light —
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

All around me now, people’s favorite past-time is to worry about getting older.  They are 30, or they are nearing 30, or they are already past 30, and they are soon to be Old.  The discomfort wears off on me a little, like when I read this horrifying wisdom from this month’s Atlantic Monthly.  Thus, I like this funny little sad poem about a 10-year-old worrying over the same things.  His worries are the same, and it’s as true/absurd on him as it is on us.

The best thing about being a grown-up is that I can be young or old, or what I will.


3 responses to ““On Turning Ten” – Billy Collins

  1. Egg viability is a huge below-the-radar office topic these days. One coworker just had hers tested–Viable! Another finally got pregnant after over 8 months of Pill-free daily sex (who knew married couples actually had daily sex? . . . but a topic for another post). Another is looking into Indian surrogates (I thought that was the domain of LA actresses, not Houstonian engineers, but people surprise you).
    So the panic I note (at least among the women) has a lot less to do w/ general aging, which can be touched up these days w/ a few low-cost fixes, and much more w/ egg-y aging.
    And I read that Atlantic Monthly article a couple wks ago, too. But no one I know seems to be all that concerned about marriage in particular. I guess the 30s are all about the eggs and the 40s are all about the husbands. Good to know we have something to look forward to.

    • Isn’t it freaky when couples who are “trying” think it’s perfectly legitimate to tell everyone about their sex? One of my favorite coworkers got barraged with questions regarding “trying” after she finally married her long-time boyfriend. She really wanted to respond with “Are you asking if I’m having sex with my husband without protection?”
      But even more disturbing is the Atlantic Monthly article describing marriage as “like running a small, mundane non-profit organization.” (I guess that lady is husband-focused since she already got one egg upgraded to a baby.)
      Perhaps medievalists were right in thinking that children come from the devil.

      • I dunno . . . I sort of like the “mundane business” take on marriage. What I can’t stand is all the love, monogamy, soulmate, and forever bullshit. All I want is someone to scrounge up a dry diaper or two for me when I’m in my 80s.

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