On Turning Ten

An old radio

This evening I was listening to Chain Reaction on BBC Radio 4, a show where last week’s interviewee becomes this week’s interviewer. Tonight poet John Hegley interviewed comedian and actor Jack Dee.

It was a fascinating interview, particularly while he was talking about exploring his vocation. At one point he thought he might become a priest but discovered that his true vocation was to the stage. Much to his director of ordinands’ relief.

At the end of the show John Hegley invited Jack Dee (why when writing about famous people can you never just write “… John invited Jack…”?) to read out a favourite poem of his. He chose this one:

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Billy Collins

4 thoughts on “On Turning Ten”

  1. I really liked the poem…

    I am a huge fan of John Hegley. I once had to help him find a sandwich.

    Very quiet he was….but nice.

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