a poem about turning 40

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last year, i wrote a poem “on turning 39.” and i thought i might start a tradition of writing myself a birthday poem — without guarding against corniness or cliche.

in the years that i do it, i suppose it’ll capture the spirit of that year (or at least the summer of that year). and so here’s the attempt for this milestone birthday, a poem about turning 40:

on turning 40 in a basement apartment downtown

understand the fundamentals:
the use of chopsticks is about balance
not pressure. gathering up noodles
requires persuasion, not force

do not worry when cleavage shows
or trust anyone else’s idea
of what it means to be a lady

smile as you walk your block
smile at tulips
at pan handlers
at painters on ladders
smile at pigeons, yes, smile
at the pigeons

smile at the banjo player outside the record store
and the bartender in her short skirt
as she walks toward bombers

shrug at parking bans (what can you do?)

lean into as many first kisses as it takes:
the stoop where lips meet at 2 a.m. belongs to you,
as does the empty sidewalk and the soft orange
halo around the street lamp. the quiet is yours,
as well, along with the strange shadow
of a tree on your neighbor’s front door

carry these secrets between your ribs:
who brings the flowers for the vase on your table
who the lover is in each poem
whose notebook you keep under your bed

tall buildings filled with lighted windows
and people who appear briefly in their frames
are signs that when you left
your husband’s house, you moved in
-to your own body

say yes when they ask if they can
buy you a drink, but refuse to laugh
at jokes unless they’re funny

sleep alone as much as you feel like it
slip naked between cool gray sheets
fitted beneath you, a calm sea
above, and flat, a cloudy sky
that brings rain when we need it most


  1. Well turned Carolee. It is what a poem wants to be, so much as I understand, but more. More being, it matters how a “poem” greets a moment, each of them. There is a stance, and it’s called willingness, or rain sometimes. Good birthday to you.

    1. yes, lauren. and if decided to peck & poke at this one, i’d make sure the two entities were far more entwined/entangled — so that they could not separated. that’s how this happiness feels at this moment: it fills the cracks in the sidewalks AND the sidewalks surround it. 🙂

    1. thanks, joseph! someone will have to remind me of that when i get tired of being “out there” ha ha … though first kisses tend to be a perk regardless of the outcome. 😉

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