Experience

Do you remember the exact words in a proverb
about wisdom and all things coming together
miraculously with age? Me neither. But I’m
always overhearing other peoples’ conversations
about this topic: in a pho restaurant,
pinching off purple-veined basil and squeezing
lime into my bowl, I overhear a conversation
about ageism in the next booth— how,
according to the fiftyish woman in a smart
blazer with matching statement necklace,
it’s terrible that nowadays, only the young
and beautiful with perfectly groomed brows,
luminous cheeks and highly developed
social networks get attention. They get
the jobs, promotions, prizes— so unfair
to people in her age demographic who aren’t
valued for the decades of experience they
can bring to the table. I was reminded
of a board meeting of the poetry society,
at which someone said rather bluntly
that it was a very bad idea to throw
early honors at the young, because
they would get a big head before they
even learned to reflect on what wisdom
or the world were really about. I tried
to think of what I was like at sixteen
or eighteen: definitely not sage-like,
definitely still green; married with kids
by twenty-one. Tsk. Still, had anyone
told me I didn’t know anything, I’d
have risen to the occasion, that kind
of reverse ageism. You don’t get to reflect
on what’s thrust upon you: violence and war,
and the closer hurt when you’re defiled,
then disbelieved. The mind shrinks even as
it expands to admit the knowledges visited
on the body. I see it in my young students
too: the beautiful, hurt stories they write.

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