It's the Aged Poet's 90th birthday today. I visited her this morning as a warm-up for her afternoon tea party, and she was frail but bright-eyed, like a bird. She confessed today to hating extreme old age ("it's really rough"), and I told her that she's allowed to be grumpy at her age. She agrees, and through the visit told me that she's planning to be grumpy more. She speaks in little loops, but just when you think she's lost, she comes in clear and strong, and the essential poet is still present whether she knows it or not, as she gazes out the window, enjoying the sound of nearby school children and pink & grey galahs.
I have printed her a momento of her birthday, for her to give to visitors at the party. The tragedy of her old age is that her vision is almost completely gone, and her life has always been anchored on the visual. I give her a copy of the printed poems; she can't read them for herself so I read it to her, and she is so pleased that she hods it in her hands afterwards for my entire visit, stroking the beautiful Italian paper. At one point she asked me how many I printed. I answer 50, so that she can send some to friends after the party. 'Wonderful!' she exclaims, holding it in front of her, as though reading it, but it is upside down. When she does put it down, she keeps reaching for it, to check that it does, indeed exist.
Over 70 years of publishing, and she still feels the thrill of seeing her work in print.
When I leave her, feeling pleased with myself, I decide to drop into a nearby bookshop that I've heard of but never visited. I find treasure: Accidental Grace by Judith Beveridge, a poetry volume I've been searching for over the years. It's well out of print (shameful) and very hard to find. It must be poetry karma, and returning so quickly!
I drove back to my studio, using each red light to drink a poem. I can see why this is a rare drop – you don't want to put it down, or let it go. I was honked once, to move along.
The tea party was a delight of interesting people (I think that's the right collective noun): poets, academics, school friends, artists, all gathered to pay homage to 90 creative years in a quiet and elegant manner. Aged Poet looked regal in the corner, holding court and glowing with satisfaction.
And then I went and spoiled it all by watching Prince of Persia with Bumblebee and his mate. Sigh.