Today’s poem is a repeat, initially published here during Time Goes By’s first six months of existence in 2004. Here is what I wrote about it that year:
”This poem is floating around the Web here and there. According to some, it was found among the “meager possessions” of an old woman who died in the geriatric ward of a Dundee, Scotland hospital, and was later published in the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health. That all may be apocryphal…”
Since then, the poem has been posted all over the internet – sometimes reworked, reworded, edited, truncated and/or embellished beyond recognition. The North Ireland Association for Mental Health has been replaced in the backstory with the names of several other institutions probably because, like me, no one can find any reference that it exists or ever did.
Also since 2006, a word-for-word version with male pronouns replacing the female ones has turned up with the backstory that it was found in the pocket of an old man who died in a hospital in Florida, or a hospital somewhere else or just a hospital with no location given. The website truthorfiction says that story is fiction. The poem, they reported in 2009,
”…was written by Dave Griffith of Fort Worth, Texas. Griffith told TruthOrFiction.com that he wrote the poem more than 20 years ago and that he meant for it to be simple, and too [sic] the point, from youth through old age in his own personal life, high school football, Marines, marriage, the ravages of his own disabilities.”
Which is, undoubtedly, also fiction. If Dave of Fort Worth (other sources say he lives in Florida) wrote about the infirmities of old age 20 years earlier, I doubt he was still with us in 2009. And, if he is still with us, I wonder how he would explain the female version which undoubtedly precedes his.
Even long-time elder videoblogger, geriatric1927, fell for all the cloying sentimentalism of the male backstory, reading it as the introduction to the poem for his YouTube channel in 2009.
I tell you all this, much shortened from what I found online in under 15 minutes, because it’s interesting to know this stuff and it amazes me that many people want to take or assign undeserved credit – or defend false credit – for something with no known provenance.
No one knows who wrote this poem, but it doesn’t matter. What I said in introduction to it eight years ago stands:
”This is a cry from the heart, whoever wrote it, to not be made invisible in old age.
“It would do us all well to remember this poem when we are frustrated by someone old moving too slowly in front of us and when we find ourselves with an older relative or friend whose mind is perhaps not as quick as it once was.”
Whatever you read elsewhere online, the poem has no title nor does it need one.
What do you see, nurses, what do you see,
what are you thinking when you’re looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise,
uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes.
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply
when you say in a loud voice, “I do wish you’d try!”
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
and forever is losing a stocking or shoe.
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
with bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you’re thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse; you’re not looking at me.
I’ll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I’m a small child of ten with a father and mother,
brothers and sisters, who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet,
dreaming that soon now a lover she’ll meet.
A bride soon at twenty – my heart gives a leap,
remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own
who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast,
bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty my young sons have grown and are gone,
but my man’s beside me to see I don’t mourn.
At fifty once more babies play round my knee,
again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead;
I look at the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
and I think of the years and the love that I’ve known.
I’m now an old woman and nature is cruel;
’tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart,
there is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells,
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
and I’m loving and living life over again.
I think of the years – all too few, gone too fast
and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see,
not a crabby old woman; look closer – see ME!
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Steve Kemp: From Devil Pup – a work in progress