Disintegrate | By Wendy Thompson Taiwo
First the legs will go, then the hearing.
I’m not sure who needs to hear this, you announce
loudly to no one in particular and everyone in the
room, but getting old really sucks.
At 38, your stomach began to bulge and droop after
your third C-section. You ignored your mother’s
advice to exercise after giving birth likening it to
the fit religion of hyperactive ponytail yoga
moms. But then your breasts shriveled to an A
cup and your body began to sag
like an old couch
like an abandoned truck.
Of course I think you’re still attractive, your
husband says, his mouth moving like he’s
He’ll probably leave, you tell yourself angrily and
begin wearing house dresses outdoors,
Was that mole there two months ago?
Why does it burn
in your chest
in your throat
in your labia
in your heart
every time you _____?
When someone calls you from the other room:
Do I want eat what with the leftover fish?
You saw whose cousin at Costco?
Why did I leave what running?
Go ask your dad what he said, goddamn
For a long time, all through your forties, you
insisted that it was other people.
It was young people
who were being prioritized in a society
drunk off their youth while middle-age people like
you were becoming obsolete.
It was the city
attracting too many techies and gentrifiers who
were over-saturating your beloved downtown
haunts and sanitizing the sketchy streets where you \
and your girlfriends got your first citation for driving
buzzed from a tall, dark, and handsome officer
who gave you his private number
J Scott (602) 537-XXXX call me
It was this new wave of medical students turned
feckless doctors too scared of a lawsuit to actually
diagnose pain, leaving you with a non-answer to
your, What’s wrong with me? or a, We’ll follow up
with you in a few weeks,
after all those tests.
Bitch, we’re old, you say to your friend over a
glass of wine and laugh. And like in a commercial,
she turns to you and says, No way, bitch! The
forties are the new twenties.
You narrow your eyes.
But then the skin begins to thicken and your odor
changes and the discharge becomes normal and
you break in so many places while your doctor
keeps telling you, It’s normal.
That area of pain
That creaking sound
That brown spot
That fleshy sore
That dry patch
That blurry effect
It’s supposed to fall off,
heal rough that way.
Call and make an appointment if anything changes.
These days, hiking feels like dragging your
bagged body behind you while the trailhead looks
as wild, healthy, and abundant as ever. Each bend
in the road, your hips and ankles click and rotate
like a child’s model robot. On the way back to the
car, your ankles swell up and you can’t bend over
to tie your shoelaces that are always coming
undone. So for the rest of the week, you resort to
wearing sandals without socks until the skin on
your feet begin to chafe.
You stop shaving.
Your saving grace is that you still haven’t gotten
gray hairs yet, your friend tells you, her own
baby face framed by wisps of dark clouds, a pale
sky that looks like rain. But you also still have
your sense of sight and it disappoints you to have
to look at yourself every day when being alive
and getting into your car to drive to work both
ways in traffic is already a kind of afterlife:
interstate is to stasis
as intubation is to interred.
In your fifties, you know you won’t be able to
retire in ten years because your grown kids still
call you for money despite graduating from law
and business school and marrying into
upper-middle-class suburban life.
Los Altos. Blackhawk.
You feel like the thread has been pulled at your
good edges and all the stuffing is billowing out.
Like I’m just all over the place, you say and your
coworkers nod thinking that this is just you
multitasking during a fiscal budget crisis.
But Tim in HR who is always inappropriate,
knows there’s something up. Why else would he
tell you, You still look good for your age when
you go to his office to return your benefits
form? And in that moment, you wished you could
follow him to his Volvo after work and sit on his
face just so you can call his wife and tell her he’s
(That shade of lipstick she will eventually find
on his shirt is called Nude Fatale.)
Your physician still can’t tell you why your feet are
always cold while the rest of you burns white hot.
So hot that your best friend has to wear two
sweaters while riding in your car because you
always have the AC on full blast. Yet night
sweats keep you up at night and now your
husband sleeps on the couch. Just for the time
being, to give you space, he says.
He’s probably already cheating, you tell yourself
angrily and begin an email draft to Tim:
“For a long time, I’ve been longing for…”
“I just want to feel something, be something different to somebody…”
“I’ve never done this before and hope you understand…”
You decide to hold off on words like “sensual,”
“discreet,” “fuck buddies,” and “lucky.”
A few days later your physician messages you. It’s
just a symptom of menopause, nothing to worry
about, and you wonder if she means the anger or
the cheating husband or the sweats because
inside you feel like you’re dying.
You used to enjoy dancing and trivia nights.
You used to take global cooking classes with
You used to keep the numbers of strangers and
exes in your phone just for moments like this:
Hi, I know we haven’t spoken since that
but I thought we could get back in touch.
You had plans to travel the world well into your
Now you nurse your bruised and aching heart and
back and hands with Netflix and DoorDash and
wine and heated pain relief patches and icepacks.
No one will ever use these words again to describe
dewy-eyed, cute, kissable, artsy, fiery, delicate,
sweet, adorable, bubbly, intoxicating, athletic, feisty,
You no longer remember your first love or what
you had for dinner last night. And I’ll probably
die tomorrow, you tell yourself angrily despite
data saying your husband will likely go first. But
damn this earth and all upon it if you don’t get to
taste the last few drops and enjoy the good life first.
Wendy Thompson Taiwo is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies at San José State University. Her poetry has most recently appeared in the SantaFe Writer’s Project, Rappahannock Review, Jet Fuel Review, Waccamaw Journal, Hey, I’m Alive, and Typehouse. She is the co-editor of the forthcoming collection Sparked: George Floyd, Racism, and the Progressive Illusion.