The Time Machine

My mother begged me: Please, please, study

Without it
I would have no future, and this

is the future that was lost in time to me

having scoffed at her, refusing
to learn the only skill I’d ever need, the one

I will associate forever now with loss, with her
bald head, her wig, a world
already gone
by the time we had this argument, while

our walls stayed slathered in its pale green. 
While we
wore its sweater sets. While we
giddily picked the pineapple
off our hams with toothpicks. Now

I'm lost somewhere between
and 1973. My

time machine, blown off course, just
as my mother knew it would be.

Oh, Mama: forget about me.
You don't have to forgive
me, but know this, please:

I am
the Stenographer now.
I am
the Secretary you wanted me to be.  I am

the girl who gained the expertise you
knew some day some man would need. 

Too late, maybe. 
I'm sick, I think.
You're dead. 
I'm weak.

“And now I'm going to tell you
a little secret. 
Get your pen and steno-pad, and sit
down across from me.”


The grieving:

It never ends. 

You learn a million
tricks, memorize
the symbols &
practice the techniques

and still you wake up every morning
lost inside your
lost machine. Confused, but always
on a journey.


Cut short.

Still moving.

Keep speaking

I'm taking it down
so quickly, so

quickly, even

(perhaps especially)

when I appear

not to be. 

I do this naturally.

See? So

that in the end
no training was ever needed.

None at all.
None at all.

I taught myself so well.

It's all I can do now.


Copyright © 2017 by Laura Kasischke. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 5, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“As I moved from childhood to adolescence, my mother became more and more worried about how I’d support myself after high school, what I could possibly do in the world to survive. She begged me to study secretarial skills I didn’t want to have—although I did win the Best Typist in Class Award in eighth grade. I refused to take the class about which I write in this poem. It’s not an exaggeration, exactly, to say that my mother thought this greatly diminished my chances of success in life. We’d looked up, together, the requirements for being a stewardess (later to be called 'flight attendant,' of course), but ‘straight teeth’ was another thing I didn’t have. My mother hoped I might consider being a travel agent. We had no way of knowing, of course, how much the world was about to change, how technology would make any stenography skills I would have acquired, had I been a better daughter, more or less obsolete, and how the Internet would have put me out of work as a travel agent just when I’d reached an age that would have made it difficult for me to retrain for something else. She never witnessed any of these changes, but I have. She never knew me as anyone with a career beyond Worst Babysitter in the Neighborhood. Here, I start up this old argument again. I believe it was triggered in my mind by a wall I glimpsed, painted that pastel green I associate with the decade before the one in which I was born—a color my mother must have associated with many of her own life’s successes and failures, and her hopes and fears for mine, with which she died.”
—Laura Kasischke