Looking Back in My Eighty-First Year

Maxine Kumin - 1925-2014
          How did we get to be old ladies—
          my grandmother's job—when we 
          were the long-leggèd girls?
	— Hilma Wolitzer

Instead of marrying the day after graduation,		
in spite of freezing on my father's arm as 				
here comes the bride struck up,
saying, I'm not sure I want to do this,

I should have taken that fellowship
to the University of Grenoble to examine 
the original manuscript 
of Stendhal's unfinished Lucien Leuwen, 

I, who had never been west of the Mississippi, 
should have crossed the ocean 
in third class on the Cunard White Star,	
the war just over, the Second World War 
 
when Kilroy was here, that innocent graffito,
two eyes and a nose draped over 
a fence line.  How could I go?
Passion had locked us together.

Sixty years my lover,
he says he would have waited.
He says he would have sat
where the steamship docked

till the last of the pursers
decamped, and I rushed back				
littering the runway with carbon paper . . .  
Why didn’t I go? It was fated. 

Marriage dizzied us. Hand over hand,
flesh against flesh for the final haul,	
we tugged our lifeline through limestone and sand,
lover and long-leggèd girl.

More by Maxine Kumin

In the Park

You have forty-nine days between
death and rebirth if you're a Buddhist.
Even the smallest soul could swim
the English Channel in that time
or climb, like a ten-month-old child,
every step of the Washington Monument
to travel across, up, down, over or through
--you won't know till you get there which to do.

He laid on me for a few seconds
said Roscoe Black, who lived to tell
about his skirmish with a grizzly bear
in Glacier Park.  He laid on me not doing anything.  I could feel his heart
beating against my heart.
Never mind lie and lay, the whole world
confuses them.  For Roscoe Black you might say
all forty-nine days flew by.

I was raised on the Old Testament.
In it God talks to Moses, Noah, 
Samuel, and they answer.
People confer with angels.  Certain
animals converse with humans.
It's a simple world, full of crossovers.
Heaven's an airy Somewhere, and God
has a nasty temper when provoked,
but if there's a Hell, little is made of it.
No longtailed Devil, no eternal fire,

and no choosing what to come back as.  
When the grizzly bear appears, he lies/lays down
on atheist and zealot.  In the pitch-dark
each of us waits for him in Glacier Park.

Woodchucks

Gassing the woodchucks didn't turn out right.
The knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange
was featured as merciful, quick at the bone
and the case we had against them was airtight,
both exits shoehorned shut with puddingstone,
but they had a sub-sub-basement out of range.

Next morning they turned up again, no worse
for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes
and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch.
They brought down the marigolds as a matter of course
and then took over the vegetable patch
nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots.

The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling
to the feel of the .22, the bullets' neat noses.
I, a lapsed pacifist fallen from grace
puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing,
now drew a bead on the little woodchuck's face.
He died down in the everbearing roses.

Ten minutes later I dropped the mother.  She
flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth
still hooked in a leaf of early Swiss chard.
Another baby next.  O one-two-three
the murderer inside me rose up hard,
the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith.

There's one chuck left. Old wily fellow, he keeps
me cocked and ready day after day after day.
All night I hunt his humped-up form.  I dream
I sight along the barrel in my sleep.
If only they'd all consented to die unseen
gassed underground the quiet Nazi way.

Purgatory

And suppose the darlings get to Mantua, 
suppose they cheat the crypt, what next? Begin 
with him, unshaven. Though not, I grant you, a 
displeasing cockerel, there's egg yolk on his chin. 
His seedy robe's aflap, he's got the rheum. 
Poor dear, the cooking lard has smoked her eye. 
Another Montague is in the womb 
although the first babe's bottom's not yet dry. 
She scrolls a weekly letter to her Nurse 
who dares to send a smock through Balthasar, 
and once a month, his father posts a purse. 
News from Verona? Always news of war. 
  Such sour years it takes to right this wrong! 
  The fifth act runs unconscionably long.