August 2002

Rebecca McClanahan


Rebecca McClanahan Rebecca McClanahan's newest book is The Riddle Song and Other Rememberings (University of Georgia, 2002).  She has also published four collections of poetry and three books about writing, including  Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively (Writer's Digest Books, 1999).  She has received the Pushcart Prize, the Wood Prize from Poetry, and the Carter prize for the essay from Shenandoah. Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry 1998, The Georgia Review, The Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, and Boulevard.  Her Website address is
His Place Or Yours    

A world of difference.
The space between

what might happen:

the dinner you serve in your mother's
hand-me-down apron, the dessert kiss
and its migratory ambition
to your bed with its chenille spread,
its hand-embroidered pillows

and what is planned:

the exact time (not four
but a quarter to) his dusty car pulling
into your driveway, the engine humming
listlessly beneath the hood. You wish
you could write throbbing,  

it would let you both off the hook,

but you can't plead passion,
or the moon pulling
a one night stand. You remember waiting
by the screen door, wondering
why they always say night

when daylight offers equal opportunity.

And why stand, when circumstance
almost always lays us down.
One day lay, you decided, ashamed  
but only for a moment. It was the first time
you were sure from the beginning

it was only for now.

The drive to his place
was several miles on a rutted road,
enough time to reconsider.
You weren't sure how to spell
his last name. He had not even bathed.

He smelled mothy as if his clothes

had been pulled from behind
some chair. You glanced sideways
at his profile, thinking of Michelangelo
studying the corpses in morgues,
cutting them apart to learn

how they worked. The burden of stone

he would later call the struggle
to resurrect what had been lost:
The way the marble stalled
against his chisel. The way centuries later
you scratch out a word too pretty

for what needs to be said,

and replace it with trailer,
what you knew even then
his place was: an aluminum can
on wheels. A room that was all bed,
not even a hook to secure your dress.

The tinny sound of the door
shutting, its insubstantial echo.




Once I cupped my hand like a beggar's
and poked it in God's face.
Give, Give!  I cried, counting
on my fingers the meager riches left.


Pocketless we slide into this world
and pocketless we shall return,
the scripture says, or something.
Where then to store the rest: Eve's apple,
the crust of unleavened bread, the coin
newly minted, itchy in our hand?
Sew a pouch, a purse, stitch a valise, secure
the filled hamper between
the camel's humps, cinch the saddlebag,
the suitcase, and here's a key
for the steamer trunk, the vault, the safety deposit box,
the attic and basement, the self-storage units
where we store our selves. Look out the window:
even the can man gleaning the returnables
has trouble lifting the load.

Who could have foreseen such wind-blown  
prosperity: the seed effortlessly
breaking its husk, sunshine of biblical proportions,
and sufficient unto the day the rain thereof.
Okay, I said. If it's that or nothing,
and opened my hands to whatever
heaven might throw down.

Peel back the bark of desire,
says the priest of less. Uncover bare need:
roof over your head, an apple a day.
But what of night, opening like a blossom?
And the wisteria, grape-heavy,
ornamental, its many-clustered shadow
against a neighbor's house.
And the pearl floating in the hollow
of a woman's white neck. Give us
this day. Forgive us this day.


Enough, cries the river spilling its banks,
the mountain worn down to stone,
the cloud having swallowed its fill of sky,
the lidded teapot, steaming.



Not Here    

Emerging from the tunnel edging the park
     and into the searing light, a boy
carrying on his shoulders a black garbage bag
      as though it contained his life,

and behind him a man, carrying only
     himself, his body stooped, feet shuffling
in shoes meant for a larger man. His eyes are sad
      the way an animal's eyes are sad,

raw sense unrelieved by understanding.
     The two are together and I am walking
with my husband on an autumn Sunday
      so brilliant you'd gladly pay

if the universe were charging:
     all that's missing is a child.
Which may be why I look towards the boy
     when the man comes at him,

and must be reminded by my husband
     who is wiser in matters like these:
You can't change their lives, let it go.
     The man lunges for the boy and begins

to strike, and the boy leans into the pain:
     Not here, he is pleading, as if there were
some better place for this to happen.
     Now the boy is up, circling
the man, the way children circle a dumb beast
     or a child weakened by wavy glasses,
goading him, teasing, as if this were
     his part to play, no choice in the casting

or in the lines some hand has written
      which he delivers to the man:
you goddamn son of a bitch get away from me
     do I have to bite you again?

The man comes at him again and the boy
     drops to his knees, his hands
shielding his face. The black bag has opened,
     spilling its contents onto the burnished leaves,

and the boy begins, almost reverently,
     to gather in his arms the trousers
and socks, the sweaters and cups, a few papers
     which he stuffs into the bag, glancing

up, and again up, so as not to lose sight
     of the man disappearing into the trees.
You fuckin asshole wait up, he cries,
     don't leave me here alone.



Rebecca McClanahan: Poetry
Copyright 2002 The Cortland Review Issue 21The Cortland Review