Overachiever’s Midlife Lament
Or, The First Shall Be Last

When we were children our lives were a contest
Of speed as achievement, the winner came first.
First without training wheels, first in the relay race,
First was the winner, and last was the worst.

Later in youth as we tallied accomplishments
Being the first marked our status, our grade:
First to get braces, the first to try cigarettes,
First to go dating, the first to get laid.

In young adulthood, still fiercely competitive.
First was our friend as we reached for the stars.
First to the altar, the first to make partner,
The first second homes and the first fancy cars.

Parenthood sharpened our passion for primacy
Using the triumphs of children to score:
First to say “mama,” the first on the honor roll,
Talented children—fresh arms for the war!

Now as we’re aging, a new kind of rivalry’s
Subtly replacing our cult of the first.
First isn’t fun when the landmarks are losses—
Our scorekeeping’s shifted, the victories reversed.

Last fading hairline, the last to get crow’s feet,
The last to be managed by somebody young.
We can compete, but our quiver is lighter
With chinks in our armor, our bow slacker strung.

Last midlife crisis, the last broken marriage,
Last with both parents, the last empty nest.
Braking our speed as the milestones get grimmer,
We cling to the rear, boasting last is the best.

© 2002 Tracy Carlson.  All rights reserved.


with apologies to Robert Frost

My freshman roommate’s still a slut,
My sophomore boyfriend’s got a gut.
I move my forty-something butt
To join the paunchy, pasty herds.

A pod of geeks (we called them nerds)
And classmates grown too rich for words
(A few are nice, but most are turds)
We air-kiss greetings insincere.

The guy I dated junior year
Still has the same beguiling leer.
(Oh good, his trophy wife is here.)
I picture him, long hair and bong.

The jokes are weak, the drinks are strong.
Oh no—that blasted college song.
I wince, but then I sing along,
I smile, and then I sing along.

© 2002 Tracy Carlson.  All rights reserved.

To a Bronzed Beach Babe,
rom a Middle-Aged Woman

with apologies to William Shakespeare

Oh summer’s day, aglow in amber sleekness,
Bedecked with navel jewel and wee bikini,
With thirty years’ more life, love, and linguine
Your beauty, now your strength, will turn to weakness.

Today your face the sun’s bright beams embraces,
Your limbs are oiled to catch the gladsome weather,
As heedlessly you cure tomorrow’s leather,
Your face, a catcher’s mitt, will chart time’s traces.

Your breasts within their tiny top now straining,
Will lose their bouncy tautness when you’re older,
Three children hence, you’ll flip them o’er your shoulder,
Your legs a map of Technicolor veining.

A beauty contest?  Clearly you would win it—
And yet I’d not trade places for a minute.

© 2002 Tracy Carlson.  All rights reserved.

Paper or Plastic?

Note: Clearly this was written before the days of reusable shopping bags!

Yes, I should care, I know, I know,
‘Cause paper’s trees, and trees regrow.
And plastic’s bad: it’s Mideast oil,
It’s propping up the Saudi royals.
But paper flops, bags hard to store.
While plastic, when not threatening war,
Is more compact and makes new sacks
(If I can think to take them back).

I used to care, I really did:
Used fabric diapers on my kid!
The first, at least, and made her food
(Well, once or twice).  My attitude
Was Purity! Integrity!
And then I met reality
And started down that slippery slide
As frailty, personified.

So now we dine at Burger King,
Where global giants do their thing:
Squelch local firms, hegemonize—
But they have really tasty fries.
A stiffer spine: that’s what I need!
More firm resolve, less sloth and greed.
I should be strong, I really should,
But life is short, and life is good.

© 2002 Tracy Carlson.  All rights reserved.