Tonight’s poem comes from the wonderful Patricia McMahon, who — among other things — is the director of the Moss Wood Retreats, a writing experience in Maine that I have been to twice and dearly loved both times. You can read about those experiences here and here, if you like. (Fair warning, that second like contains a poem I wrote the last time I was there.)
This poem of hers, “The Last Time. One Sixty Seven, Seventh Street,” reminds me that nothing is permanent and ghosts are everywhere. And that’s okay, too, because it is a gift, not to be taken for granted, to feel the full range of emotions. I love the vivid descriptions here, how they carry the reader through this tiny landscape, pinging us from loss to joy to nostalgia to reminiscence and back through that catalogue again.
The Last Time. One Sixty Seven, Seventh Street.
The white gate no longer swings open,
the hinge rusted, the bushes, once small
and filled with bees to run from, screaming
for fun, are grown too tall, too wild for this small
space. A narrow concrete path leads around
back where the sapling is a great tree taking
most of the yard over now. But the green pitcher
is still moist on the outside on this summer’s
night, iced tea filled with fresh lemons. Mint
as well, when she grew it by the tulips on the
other side of the house. She wrapped them in
wet paper, carried to the kitchen. The mint is no
longer there. Not a tulip in sight. Still, the pitcher
will hold a handprint on this evening. Peach cobbler
would have been there. Pastel pajamas for
the three girls on hot nights. Seersucker. Lying
in the bedroom across the hall from the one with
a big dresser. And big shoes in front. A big man.
Her side table piled with books. Over here
a silver brush and mirror, a cut glass perfume
bottle. Jesus gazes down from one wall to his
mother Mary on the other side, while my father,
who has left the everyday behind, has slipped out
of time, stares across the room where my young
mother’s ghost combs her hair with the long handled
brush. The children are nowhere to be found.
Patricia McMahon writes poetry for adults and literature for children (patriciamcmahonbooks.com). The author of fourteen books, a graduate of The Center for the Study of Children’s Literature, Patricia has worked in publishing, as a bookseller, and is Past President of the Foundation for Children’s Books. The founder and director of The Moss Wood Retreats, each June finds her organizing writing retreats in the loveliest spot on the coast of Maine (mosswoodretreats.com). A committed traveler, she has lived on four continents; currently, Houston, Texas is home.