Her hands, like a pair of small birds,
move from cabinet to cabinet, gathering.
Ladeling preserves into glass jars, marking
the name of a neighbor on each lid.
Lining the favors on the table, covering
the lot with a white bed sheet. She plants
a sign in the front yard: 80 in great neon
letters. Crowns herself with a triangular party hat,
silver hair falling past her lips like a prayer.

Heather Cadenhead is the author of two chapbooks, Inventory of Sleeping Things (Maverick Duck Press, 2010) and The Education of a Girl (Maverick Duck Press, forthcoming in 2011). Her work has been featured in such journals as Illuminations, Ruminate, New Plains Review, and various others. For more, visit

In literature, I've noticed that the elderly are almost romanticized. There is something mystical and perhaps a little frightening about them. As young people, we often plan out the types of elderly people we want to be—my mother wants to go sledding when she's 80, for example. My father, who has perfect vision, wants to wear glasses. I want long, silvery hair.

In a way, this poem is what I'd call a future memoir—it is an event that hasn't happened to me, but represents in every way the type of elderly lady I plan to be. I imagine I'll find odds and ends around my house to give as Christmas gifts. I can picture throwing myself a birthday party at age 80.

We've thrown birthday parties where only two or three people attended—and sympathized with the neglected child. I thought it would be interesting to adjust the scenario and visualize an old woman whose birthday is forgotten. And to speculate that, even at age 80, we might still experience it for the simple tragedy that it is.



Copyright 2009