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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