Susan McLean

Living in the Past

I’ve slipped back, decades. Tattered on the shelves

stand Robinson Crusoe, from my lonely youth,

and, further back, When We Were Very Young.

So strange, these strata. Ghosts of former selves

waylay me with their slippery peels of truth

in the thicket of thorns I warily step among.

Artwork from junior high: in silhouette,

a naked woman dances with a stag

in sunset’s flames, one hoof held in her hand.

What’s that about? No, don’t explain: I’d gag.

Some things it’s better not to understand,

too weird and silly even to regret.

My high-school yearbook, where my spiteful neighbor

stares numbly, and I see how sad she was.

Her father’s fist left dent marks in her wall.

She’s dead now. All her family, too. And does

it matter that I grudgingly forgave her

too late? Gather the blames and shred them all.

I’ve come back now to help my mother die

the way she wants, as pharaohs did, hemmed in

by all her things. I try to keep it pleasant.

I cook her favorite meals, massage her skin,

watch Jeopardy with her. At night we lie

swaddled in layers, in the unopened present.

Susan McLean, a retired professor of English at Southwest Minnesota State University, is the author of two collections of poems: The Best Disguise (University of Evansville, 2009), winner of the Richard Wilbur Award; and The Whetstone Misses the Knife (Story Line Press, 2014). Her poems have appeared in Ecotone, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Blue Unicorn, Think, and elsewhere. She lives in Iowa City.

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