I’m sixty-three years’ old and I just got hit on by a school bus full of teenage boys at a red light. They smiled, waved, hooted, motioned for me to roll down my window. One of them shouted that he needed experience! Now, these kids might have come on to Aunt Bea from Mayberry, but I doubt it. I was wearing my long dark hair in a ponytail, sporting glossy wine red lipstick, and driving an electric blue car. And I was smiling back!
Truck drivers still honk at me on the thruway, and I count each honk as a vote for sensuality. Am I “other-directed”? Do I care about the way others see me? You bet I do! I take my cues from the pretty French women I used to watch in Paris when I was a student at the Sorbonne. No matter how old they were, or what they were doing, they always looked good. (And they always wore good shoes.) My French teacher, Madame Pradal, used to tell us that we were like bottles cast adrift on the sea. “If you want someone to pick up the bottle on the shore, to read the message inside, you’d better make that bottle look tempting!”
Madame P. was a poet. Part of the secret of staying sexy at sixty I have learned from my writing. I started writing erotic poetry when I turned forty. Back then I had developed a crush on a much younger man, and my way of playing that out in a way that would hurt no one was to write about it. I named my crush Orpheus. The poems to Orpheus were very, very sexy—they formed a volume called “How to Get Heat Without Fire.” Recently those poems were anthologized in the collection “Packing Light: New and Selected Poems.” Men of different ages write to me about my work, and the poems they most often admire are those erotic poems. Women like them, too. My friend Ellen from our synagogue told me that she and her husband like to read the poems together. “My husband always gets lucky when we read them!” Ellen told me.
I have chosen to keep my hair long and dark to go with the persona that I’ve developed in the poetry. I announce myself in “Why I Wear My Hair Long”:
I want to wrap it
like a silk shirt
button it slowly,
let the fringes tickle your hips…
Often at readings people will request this poem having to do with the silkiness of hair. Once, an elderly white-haired man raised his hand during the question and answer period. “How long do you plan to keep on doing this?” he asked, accusingly. What I felt like saying was, “You should talk!” But I answered, fervently, “As long as I have breath.” Back off, you double standard! I will have none of ye!
Writing erotically taught me not to censor myself. I bring the full power of my mind and body to play in my songs. When I started out writing sensually I was afraid I would be hit by lightning. But I wasn’t struck down dead for being honest and alive in my body. So I kept going, kept writing and being at home in my skin, and have stayed embodied for decades.
My husband loves my poetry. He’s confident, not a jealous type, and he reads my work aloud playfully, to show me how it’s done. He never assumes that I’m writing for other men. The “you” in my poetry (“I want you here…”) is him, he believes. But truth be told, the “you” is you and you and you and every reader. The poet wants the reader to enter the poem, to say “yes”!
Once in awhile I have gotten in trouble with the songs. One or two young men have developed crushes. I’m old enough to be their grandmothers and they still follow me around like puppies. I have to be very careful not to encourage that. I never let on that I too, have crushes. The result would be more crushing than anyone would want! No, it’s all imaginative play, all the “doing” takes place in words.
And when they talk about the “graying of the English Department,” I respond, “That’s one problem I’ll never have!” As long as I can get to the Aveda salon for my new-growth touchups, I’ll be a brunette siren. And buses of boys will pull up next to my car, and fall all over themselves trying to get out the window. Let my male colleagues go white-haired into that Great Night.
“Sixty is the new forty,” one friend said, and another, “Confidence is your perfume.”I believe both those statements.. Treat the body not like a temple but like a home,and love it, pamper and protect it, enjoy and celebrate being embodied at any age!
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.