Caron Freeborn is autistic, perseverating on details others discard. A novelist until gradually she became a poet, her poems have been published in magazines and journals, both with and without her collaborator, photographer Steve Armitage. As part of winning the Earlyworks competition, her first full poetry collection, Georges Perec is my hero, appeared in 2015. She regularly does spoken word gigs and in 2017, was commissioned to produce an hour-long performance piece in response to the Phantom exhibition at the Ruskin Gallery in Cambridge, curated by artist Jane Boyer. With Presenting…the Fabulous O’Learys, she has also recently returned to prose fiction. Full-length books: Novels:Three Blind Mice (Abacus, 2001)Prohibitions (Abacus, 2004)Presenting…the Fabulous O’Learys (Holland House, 2017)Poetry:Georges Perec is my hero (Circaidy Gregory Press, 2015)
Sex and the over-forties
When I was fifteen, it was thought appropriate
by teachers who barely glanced up to metre
our piercings, dyes, tattoos, to make us study
(for the O-level to get us into that office if we were lucky) Peter Porter’s ‘Sex and the Over-Forties’. While we were scrawling IMAGERY and IMP!!! beside lines, and learning to spell onomatopoeia, the fact that really stuck was that agѐd sex – the poet stressed – was IMP!!! not a good thing. So I grew up thinking – as I scratched Indian ink into my boyfriend’s scabby skin – that real sex stopped at 39. Poem wasn’t joking. Bald dude hated himself and we could, like, see why and shit.
We still took him literally when we were twenty (for a few of us were intellectuals now, bypassing factory and office both for the Left Bank inked deep into our veins). A slim Sophian tome laying down the law: the over-forties can’t cut it anymore. More pity than contempt, true and one or two put it to the test by having affairs with those ancient enough to be their parents but it was always parodic. We were condemned to be free. A lone soul married their old-time companion but that didn’t last.
(At thirty-five, we tried not to see the poem coming and most wilfully forgot or folded it away.)
Now, over too much wine, too many years, naked over-forties shed dressed-up inhibitions. I command and they can’t get their kit off quick enough. So listen, Peter Porter – this one’s for you.
Darling, today I’m all soaring confidence and sagging arse. Other way round when I was twenty. Much prefer this.
When I was twenty, I had a fling with a middle-aged man who couldn’t handle his wife’s c-section overhang. Now I’ve got that scar as if I’ve inherited it – I make my man lick it every night. I’m permanently hungover.
If I’d a chandelier, I’d swing from it: no muffle-shuffle under dampening duvets – the boy’s left home.
My kids are still young. Just when I know what I want there’s no privacy to get it. We try the larder.
(Oh, how I love their lines, Mr Porter. How I love their smoked flesh. Listen.)
It’s not so goal-oriented but still not keen on a hairy pitch. My wife’s young. Women my age don’t want to shave.
(Well, all right, can’t win them all.)
Nice to count the same years – not just for equal saggage. Can finger the precise sex you want, not what – you think – you ought to want.
My lover’s greedy for me. Ex-hubby nibbled daintily at then-firm flesh as though I were a cucumber sandwich. But my lover devours me, licks the plate and then comes back for seconds. It’s rather marvellous.
I don’t want sex without real, dark grown-up passion. Even if it’s delusional. Even if it’s a fucking lie.
(You hear that, Mr Porter? Words matter. We speak dragoned mouths.)
But I’ve not had it for years. Shame will shrink my erogenous self until it barely exists. We’re sexually incompatible. Sad, for both. A celibate marriage. Neither of us satisfied.
I’m like an elephant in solitary confinement: so lonely I hold my own tail.
(That’s not funny, Mr Porter. That’s tragic.)
My body sags more but I like it more. Still worry about pregnancy, though. In my head – man – like, still nineteen.
Fit, fat and fifty – feel like Big Mama Thornton. Take a tumble and a fumble for what it is, sans guilt. Think it’s behind you, heigh ho, it isn’t. Knowing what you definitely don’t like – hello, anal? – and having skills.
(You think that’s just the women, Sir? Think on.)
That dense excitement when a woman of fifty has seen the world and it’s you she wants from the whole of it.
Eroticism has nothing to do with youth and beauty. Sex happens in the head. I’m into textual arousal.
(Sweet, you must admit – if a tad pompous.)
Desire hasn’t diminished but changed. There’s someone I want so much, I can feel them through miles.
(Did you feel their keening, Mr Porter? Spear flesh with barbs, they’re glad.)
Used to be I wanted to pass as straight. At forty-cough would be a disaster – I’d never get laid. Or want to.
Deep red lipstick only looks good over forty. Tip: never call that red-hot mother cute. But call her.
Wagner wrote Tristan at forty-four. That boring shit. I go to sweaty gigs, pick up drummers.
I’ve waited all my life to feel like this: teeth encouraged to rip live skin from lovely collarbone.
We invented sex choice before they were conceived; most Friday nights, I still say any port in life’s storm.
(You must hear – may I call you Peter? – those dreams aren’t in a drawer.)
We’re not yet ready to let go of our disappointments. Slippery with yearning, we don’t briskly towel ourselves off, or rely on the young to provide back-to-back orgasms and the tight bodies to put them in. We slide into, against, other aging organs (for the most part), move quivering through the long years. Unlike when we were fifteen and couldn’t wait to get out of double English so we could smoke Number 6 and fuck illiterately. Unlike when we were twenty and literally took you every night.