American Life Poetry

Published on Wed, Jun 10, 2009 by Ted Kooser Former U.S. Poet Laureate

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As we all know, getting older isn’t hard to do. Time continues on. In this poem, Deborah Warren of Massachusetts asks us to think about the life lived between our past and present selves, as indicated in the marginal comments of an old book. There’s something beautiful about books allowing us to talk to who we once were, and this poem captures this beauty.


Finding an old book on a
basement shelf—
gray, spine bent—and reading it
I met my former, unfamiliar,
some of her notes and scrawls
so alien

that, though I tried, I couldn’t
get (behind
this gloss or that) back to the
time she wrote
to guess what experiences she
had in mind,
the living context of some
scribbled note;

or see the girl beneath the
purple ink
who chose this phrase or that to
the mood, the boy, that lay
behind her thinking—
but they were thoughts I
recognized as mine;

and though there were words I
couldn’t even read,
blobs and cross-outs; and
though not a jot
remained of her old existence—
I agreed
with the young annotator’s every

A clever girl. So what would she
see fit
to comment on—and what
would she have to say
about the years that she and I
have written
since—before we put the book

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2008 by Deborah Warren, whose most recent book of poems is “Dream with Flowers and Bowl of Fruit,” University of Evansville Press, 2008.