IN WHICH THE POET AND ALICE ARE SUDDENLY OLD
by Stephanie Bolster
Side by side in our chair, we are two bent women
at a leaded window. It’s overcast. I take notes
as you intone your catalogue of loss, sons and sister
gone, husband, love, who’s left? I reach
for your wrist but you tear yourself from me,
cry Go away, as though I’ve backed you
into this corner. Did you dream me old
to cure your loneliness or have you become
the grandmothers I didn’t sit beside as they died?
I was young, a hundred years beyond you,
and let myself fall from full colour into
monochrome. We’re grey with loss of childhood,
we make believe it was all perfect then.
Remember, you begin—and all shimmers to a bit of sun.
To not foresee: that lack was what we had, and lost
as we enlarged beyond our photographs.
You still believe a shutter-click will reunite you
with yourself. I take my camera out. But, my aged
mind elsewhere, I leave the lens cap on:
aim at you and photograph a blackness absolute.
"We’re grey with loss of childhood,” and "a blackness absolute.” Now that Alice has grown old and lost so many loved ones that it is necessary to ask “who’s left?” she is depicted as a darkened photograph, absolute absence. “In Which the Poet and Alice Are Suddenly Old” draws a complex portrait of a pair of women who appear at the end of a life, but not necessarily at the edge of death. By ending the poem with “a blackness absolute,” Bolster overcasts our image of the two women that she has just presented, suggests the effacement of Alice as a character and questions her own ability to represent Alice and herself clearly.
The self-consciousness of Bolster as a poet is revealed through her questioning of whether Alice dreamed her, but it is also relevant to wonder whether she dreamed Alice, particularly because the White Stone collection is a series of meditations on a certain woman who has been dead since before Bolster was born. By bringing in the grandmothers at this point in the poem, Bolster points to a cyclical quality of human lives; we have already been informed that the poet is “suddenly old” and that her companion has undergone much loss and can no longer count who remains.
The characters “enlarged beyond [their] photographs” and when the poet attempts to take Alice’s picture, she is not able to. After Alice’s losses have been recounted, the narrator asks, “who’s left?” and seems to answer the question with “I reach,” ending with an image of reaching beyond or toward the ones that have been lost.