Poem of the Week, by Brenda Shaughnessy

The past few weeks I’ve been obsessively reading the Neapolitan novels, by the Italian writer Elana Ferrante. They’re a magnificent trilogy (soon to be a quartet) about a friendship between two girls (who grow into older women by the end of the three novels). Each novel is big and fat and dense and I can’t even explain what, besides the writer’s psychological acuity, makes them so compulsively readable. Finished the second yesterday and immediately walked to Magers & Quinn to buy the third. What do the Ferrante novels have to do with this poem by Brenda Shaughnessy? I can’t explain that either, other than that there’s a stanza in there about mothers and daughters that throws me right into the dark heart of the dark star that makes that kind of love so, so, so whatever it is. Crucial. Essential. Neverending.

I Have a Time Machine, by Brenda Shaughnessy

But unfortunately it can only travel into the future
at a rate of one second per second,which seems slow to the physicists and to the grant
committees and even to me.

But I manage to get there, time after time, to the next
moment and to the next.

Thing is, I can’t turn it off. I keep zipping ahead—
well, not zipping—And if I try

to get out of this time machine, open the latch,
I’ll fall into space, unconscious,

then desiccated! And I’m pretty sure I’m afraid of that.
So I stay inside.

There’s a window, though. It shows the past.
It’s like a television or fish tank

but it’s never live, it’s always over.
The fish swim in backward circles.

Sometimes it’s like a rearview mirror, another chance
to see what I’m leaving behind,

and sometimes like blackout, all that time
wasted sleeping.

Myself age eight, whole head burnt with embarrassment
at having lost a library book.

Myself lurking in a candled corner expecting
to be found charming.

Me holding a rose though I want to put it down
so I can smoke.

Me exploding at my mother who explodes at me
because the explosion

of some dark star all the way back struck hard
at mother’s mother’s mother.

I turn away from the window, anticipating a blow.
I thought I’d find myself

an old woman by now, traveling so light in time.
But I haven’t gotten far at all.

Strange not to be able to pick up the pace as I’d like;
the past is so horribly fast.

​For more information about Brenda Shaughnessy, please click here.

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