The Approximate Weight of My Responsibility

posted in: Aging, Poetry | 0
Wilderness Sarchild portrait

Two poems by Cape Cod poet Wilderness Sarchild, from her book Old Women Talking, published by Passager Books in 2017.
5 minutes


Wilderness Sarchild describes herself as an expressive arts therapist, poet, playwright, and grandmother of six. She said that when she was approaching her 60th birthday, she found herself anxious and full of dread. She conducted interviews and led group sessions with 100 women between the ages of 60 and 95. Those interviews inspired two projects. One was “Wrinkles: The Musical,” which she co-wrote and which premiered in 2017. The other was a book of poems, Old Women Talking, which Passager published, also in 2017.

Wilderness said, “I wrote the poems in Old Women Talking out of a need to express my anger, frustration, sadness, joy and love about what’s happening in the world on any given day and to begin to understand the connections between all these events; to come to terms with family trauma; to find grace in the aging process; and to honor death as a rite of passage.

Here’s the opening to Wilderness Sarchild’s poem “I Was Turning 65:”

I was turning 65
And I did not want to be old,
but here I was, old,
so I started looking at old
women on the street,
post office, church, Stop ‘n Shop

and I began to see how interesting they are
and I wanted to know their stories
and they became my teachers in growing old
and I’m doing pretty well.

Wilderness Sarchild writes a lot about women and aging, but she also writes about her inheritance as an American. Here are two of her poems. The first is set at her house in a Cape Cod forest.

“This Is My Home, Isn’t It?”

I sit in this swivel chair by the fire,
this grand white chair now stained
with a grandchild’s chocolate popsicle.
At my feet, a handwoven rug where
my dog likes to scratch
and sleep in a spot of sun
blazing through the sliding glass door—
the same door that a chickadee
crashed into yesterday.
She lost her breath, but didn’t die.
I picked her dazed body up off the ground,
whispered soft breath into her downy feathers.
She didn’t move. Then she did.
Wings lifted her into sky.

I live in a cottage in the woods.
My neighbors are wild turkeys, deer,
coyote, fox, frogs, squirrels,
and a big old snapping turtle
that lives in the pond
and eats bread from my hand.

The pond is named after Micah Rafe,
the last Native American
to live on this land.

I don’t know what happened to Micah,
his children or his grandchildren
but I know this land
was taken from them by folks
who look like me.

Yet, this is my home, isn’t it?

I look out the window
at the setting sun.

“This Is My Home, Isn’t It?” by Wilderness Sarchild. And Here’s another one of her poems,
“The Approximate Weight of Responsibility.”

I want to be in your skin:

you, the child slave
in Africa
picking cocoa beans
that end up in my
afternoon chocolate fix

you, the old blind woman
with rotting skin,
one of the last
eye witnesses
of Hiroshima

you, the American nun
in Guatemala
who escapes from
your torturers,
later to find out
your own government
was implicit
in your abduction

you, the Muslim prisoner
in Abu Ghraib
forced to go against your God
for the sadistic amusement
of your interrogators

you, the Native American children
whose playground
is contaminated
with uranium

I want to be in your skin
I want to be in your skin
That, my friend,
is the approximate weight
of my responsibility.

. . .

Wilderness Sarchild’s poem “The Approximate Weight of My Responsibility.”

To buy Wilderness’s book Old Women Talking or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can also download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.