An Old Woman’s Birthday

Edwin Morgan

That’s me ninety-four. If we are celebrating
I’ll take a large Drambuie, many thanks,
and then I’ll have a small one every evening
for the next six years. After that – something quick
and I’ll be off. A second century doesn’t entice.
When I was a girl, you thought you would live for ever.
Those endless summer twilights under the trees,
sauntering, talking, clutching a modest glass
of grampa’s punch diluted to suit young ladies –
diluted? it didn’t seem so! the crafty old man
loved to see us glowing, certainly not swaying
but just ever so slightly, what do you say, high.

Life put all that away. I drove an ambulance
through shells, ruins, mines, cries, blood,
frightful, days of frightfulness who could forget?
It is not to be dwelt on; we do what we can.
If this is hell, and there is no other,
we are tempered, I was tempered – fires, fires –
I was a woman then, I was not broken.
No angel either; the man I married knew that!
Well, we had our times. What are quarrels for
but to make amends, get stronger. We did, we were.
He is gone now. I don’t have a budgie in a cage
but I am one, and if you want me to sing
it will take more than cuttlebone and mirror:
more than Drambuie: more than if there was ever
good news out of Iraq where my ambulance
would keep me day and night without sleep:
more than what I say here, sitting
waiting for my son to come and see me
perhaps with flowers, chocolate, a card,
oh I don’t know, he is late, he is ill,
he is old, I forget his heart is worse
than mine, but still, I know he’ll do his best.

You really want me to sing? Come on then,
you sing first, then a duet, I love a duet.