“Tell me what you see missing, and I will tell you who you are.”
—W.S. Merwin, misremembered
You can miss the sound of a saw mill, the smell
of oak or cedar rising with the dusk. You can long
for the taste of fresh chicken, though you were sick
enough of it once. You can make yourself almost
ill with the memory of the breath of a baby, long gone,
along the length of your neck. You can see in your keen
mind’s eye the water’s ripple when you throw the slick
white stone, and you wish just once more you could
take in the smell of your father’s tobacco, the thing
that put him early into the ground. You can even miss
the taste of a bitter medicine, the sting of an old belt
snapped across your bare back— as much as you
miss the calm weight of an old dog, her inexplicable low howl
in the dead of night. Who can say why we miss what we
miss? We only know the familiar joys and sorrows we
carry in our deepest pockets take on the same scent,
or odor, the sweet mix of regret. You can miss the feel of dry
dust under your feet, the stir of an old spoon, the V of geese
in an autumn sky, the hum and riff in an Easter hymn, the way
your tongue used to catch on the dawn of a broken tooth.
—Mary M. Brown (Madison County)
This poem first appeared in The Cresset.
Mary M. Brown lives with her husband Bill in Anderson, Indiana. She’s a Hoosier not by birth but by long residence and disposition, and she enjoys proximity to all six of her grandchildren. Retired now, she taught literature and creative writing at Indiana Wesleyan for many years. Her work appears on the Poetry Foundation and the American Life in Poetry websites and has been published recently in Christian Century, The Cresset, Quiddity, Flying Island and Justice Journal.
Poetry Prompt: A Patchwork Quilt of Memories
What sensual remnants from the past do you miss, regret . . . yearn for? They might be details related to a person who is gone now or a place where you no longer live. Stitch a list of these images together. Accept contradictions. End with a powerful image.
Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem and prompt every day in April. Indiana Poet Laureate Shari Wagner selected these poems and wrote the prompts.