Ode to my Younger Self

by Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby

You were beautiful and stupid though you thought
you were so smart, and in a way you were,
because you loved poetry and Beethoven and apples
but why did it take you so long to learn to drink coffee
and eat breakfast? And those boyfriends? Oh, well, you were young
and experimenting with everything–drugs, love,
dancing at lesbian bars, meditating for a month at a Buddhist retreat,
taking the train from Kansas City to New York,
and staying with a friend whose Buddhist master told her
you had bad vibes and not to stay in the same apartment
with you, the same guy who gave her a special stone
to put in her vagina to cure the bad vibes there,
and she wasn’t the weirdest friend you had, because that
would have to be Elizabeth, who when I see her
around town now and she’s skinny, I know she’s not taking
her meds and that tiger stalk of hers will end up badly for me
in the jungle of her mind, so I try not to make eye contact,
because more than anything I don’t want to put on
my combat boots and wade into her psychodrama,
and when I see young women walking down the street
with that lost look in their eyes, I want to say to them,
Don’t despair, beautiful young woman. You’ll find yourself,
and one day you will wake up and realize you were always
that person. But maybe I’m wrong, because some women
marry a guy who looks like a prince and end up in the morgue
or Refuge House or hanging themselves from the chandelier
in their rented rooms, because Time can be dangerous, so read
Middlemarch, young women, because George Eliot
can do your thinking for you until you get your own mind organized,
or Dostoevsky and Charlotte Bronte, who helped me navigate
the utter stupidity of my early twenties, and Keats and Garcia Lorca,
so in a sense, my younger self, you chose your friends well
though they were all in books, but Thomas Hardy
was one of your best boyfriends ever, wasn’t he,
because you spotted your Gabriel Oak from across the room
and was not pulled in by a Sgt. Frank Troy,
and Jane Austen, she taught you to hold out for what you
really wanted, and Virginia Woolf–she showed you how
to be a woman and a man in the same body through time,
and the Song of Solomon told you that love could be poetry,
so thank you for staying up all night reading and not going
out to bars, and I really appreciate that dance class
you took three days a week all through your thirties,
and after that the yoga. I’m feeling fit right now,
and I know I have you to thank, and those eleven years
as a vegetarian. You really took care of my heart.

Last updated November 12, 2022