by Maura MacNeil
I will not die from memories.
I will go to the Pacific and walk the shore.
I will live the ocean despite the ferocity
of western gulls when I try to eat my
cheese sandwich and they swoop and crowd.
I’ll be quiet.
I’ll learn tidal charts
so I won’t get caught on jetties
and have to call for help,
rescued by helicopters and heroes
in dry suits.
I am careful as I drive.
I equate the Midwest with serial murderers.
I don’t let the gas go below half a tank.
I dress in baggy jeans and a denim shirt.
I wear a baseball cap. My inmate uniform.
I look tough, menacing even.
When I clench my jaw
I resemble my father.
When I get out to pump gas
at truck stops I don’t
make eye contact with men.
In the Badlands of South Dakota
I fall off the edge of the earth.
The sky so large it tilts.
The terrain a large sea.
A stranger tells me I’m not where I am because I’m not where I’m going yet.
I understand that bodies hold all memories
and tonight I want to conjure up a particular night
years ago when I slept with someone I loved
so that tonight I won’t have to sleep alone.
I can’t get the memory quite right.
I was the one who left so I should not
be afforded the comfort of that lover, years later.
Instead, my dead father returns to me.
I smell whisky and wet wool.
When he comes to me as I sleep
he yells at me to wake up
as he did when I was very young
and I was hard to rouse.
I do not fear him.
I believe in ghosts.
If you do not believe in ghosts they become
a house that settles too loudly at night.
A banging radiator hissing boiling steam.
A draft blowing through the closed window
that rattles the doors.
Some nights I am not sure what I am
so it is easy to conjure up what I do not want.
What is your best? I will ask my father when he next appears.
I become all I have left behind
and I become the absence
within the house I sleep within.
I become the sum of past lovers
and the death of them.
I become an apparition of myself.
Some nights I believe it is my own face
in the dark window looking in on me.
Maura MacNeil is the founder of off the margins, a website that features writing and reflection on the life of an artist from women who “fearlessly tell the truth and risk vulnerability to give voice to their experience.” She earned her MFA in Poetry from Vermont College and her poetry, prose, and critical writing has been published and anthologized in numerous publications over the past three decades. Current projects include a mixed-genre memoir titled Sugar and a poetry project titled Bodyland. She is a professor of creative writing and also serves as the director of the MA in Professional Writing program at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire.
Kate Dean is an artist, poet, gardener, holistic health coach and musician, and lives in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire. She is completing an MFA in Studio Art with a focus on textiles, and makes installations, artist’s books, and sculptures.