Poem of the Week, by Mary Jo Salter

IMG_7772The other day a new friend walked into my house and stopped to look at some photos perched on a bookcase. “Is that you?” he said, pointing to one of a girl on a windsurfer. “No, that’s my daughter,” I said, admiring her, how the wind was blowing her long hair back. Then time did one of its weird pivots and I startled and sort of laugh/winced, because why had I said the girl on the windsurfer was my daughter? She wasn’t. She was me, long ago, when I was the age that my daughter is now. Do we, at some point, evolve into the mothers of our own selves? What a beautiful and sorrowful thought, a thought which keeps me re-reading Mary Jo Salter’s haunting poem below. 


Here I Am, by Mary Jo Salter

Here I am, making my grand tour
the summer after graduation.
What is this? Must be the Rome train station.
We never noticed we were poor.
Backpacks and low-rise jeans—
we never lived beyond our means.
(Back then there were no ATMs.)
Here we are,
my friends and me.
We’re napping on a bank of the Thames,
when love was free.

Here I am with that girl I met
on the trip to Brussels or Bruges.
(My God, her duffel bag is huge!)
What was her name? Yvonne? Yvette?
She ditched me; I’m forgetting why.
Oh yeah—when I slept with that Swedish guy.
His sleeping bag was full of fleas.
Here we are,
with our bread and cheese,
on a park bench in the Tuileries,
when love was free.

    Here I am,
    a woman in the middle
    of her life,
    and her life
    is an endless riddle.
    In all of Europe
    I couldn’t stir up
    a memory more un-
    likely and foreign
    than me at twenty-two.
    I can’t help gazing
    at her bright young eyes,
    at her nice firm thighs.
    Was I ever twenty-two?
    Look at her skin, it’s amazing.
    Can you be me? Am I you?

Here I am at the Berlin Wall.
They tore it down, but it’s still there
in this picture, like my long dark hair.
But there’s a wall between her and me
that, like me, won’t be getting thinner.
Here we are,
myself and me,
thinking, Ich bin ein Berliner,
but who is free?

    Here I am,
    looking at this kernel
    of myself,
    and I feel
    so strangely maternal.
    Do I have a choice?
    I can’t believe I’m hearing
    my own mother’s voice
    giving me advice:

Did you pack your passport?
Sign your traveler’s checks?
Don’t talk to men,
they only want sex;
keep a ladylike appearance
and when was the last time you sent
a postcard to your parents?

Here it is.
Here’s my postcard to me.
I’ve become my own mother;
never thought I’d be.
But here I am …
here I am.


For more information on Mary Jo Salter, please click here.

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  1. Gabrielle McGhee · August 26, 2017

    I know that picture. You were living in Boston, working for that wind surfing guy … oh my.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gabrielle McGhee · August 26, 2017

    But I bet you like who you are now more … I know that I like myself better today than at any other time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • alisonmcghee · August 26, 2017

      I am much happier now, that’s for sure. xo


  3. Suzanne · August 26, 2017

    Beautiful girl. Just like mama. Love the poem.

    Liked by 1 person

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