“Jeopardy” by Jeff McRae

Jeff McRae


And so if, when we are old and have lost interest
in things scholarly, and the children are living lives of their own,
what if we become what we strive now so hard to avoid?
Comforted by routine, scheduled by television programs.

What is: the morning coffee you brewed for years while I slept?
Who is: the woman that suffered all my abuses?
What are: the conditions of indebtedness?
And if when we have long since ceased using our proper names,

or your medical condition has me speaking again to God,
who never crossed the threshold of our house, what is:
I will not die first? Who is: the one most likely to better bear
the remaining days? Perhaps we’ll know the beauty of one thing.

Perhaps we will be left with the gift of a breath. A storm is coming.
One need only feel the air to know what lies within
the corpse-colored clouds. When you are young
and certain of your place in the palpable mystery of being

you begin with knowing. Then forgetting begins: forgetting
where you left your glasses (on your head), forgetting
when we first met (in a cold month long ago), forgetting even
what grace felt like (it felt like privilege). It occurs to you

how gently the rain rolls through the deltas of sand on the sidewalk.
What is: an evening of opposites? Who is: the owner
of this lilac-scented drawer of clothes? What are: the brief songs
of crickets? When the world trusts you it will reveal itself

in the language of repetition, in the forked tongue of instinct and culture,
with a stale breath of history. Until then you must learn to live
with small amounts of starvation, with want, with a lengthening list
of valid questions for which you deserve no answer.

from Rattle #23, Summer 2005


Jeff McRae: “In junior high I copied a poem from a book and passed it off as my own to my mother, who promptly affixed it to the refrigerator. I wrote my first poem to keep the jig afoot. Growing up on a farm in Vermont, I became totally whacked-out on both kinds of nature: the Robert Frost and the James Harriot kinds, and happily remain so.”

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