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Alison McGhee: Two Poems
Sleepwalker | The Woman I Might Have Been


A child enters our room sometime after midnight.
I know it's our son by the silhouette of his cheek,
his spiky, sleep-tossed hair.
I say his name. He doesn't answer.
I call his name again and
again, he does not answer.
It is our boy, isn't it?
Or have I transformed a masked stranger into a
second-grader in blue plaid flannel pajamas?

A whisper of a laugh escapes him and
it does not sound like the laughter of the boy I know.
Someone else has come upon us,
insinuated himself into our family,
eased in on a black night.
Fear slips cold gloves around my lungs and
I can't breathe.
Motionless on the threshold, the
stranger stares at me in darkness.

Next morning at breakfast the
eight-year-old is back. His spoon lifts
in and out of a cereal bowl, flashing silver.
He sees me gazing at him in the morning sun.
He smiles his gap-toothed smile.
After a minute I smile back at him.
I don't want to think about
what I witnessed there, in the dark:
the man inside the boy, waiting to get out.

The Woman I Might Have Been

I step on the scale at the Y.
It doesn't move.
Am I weightless today?
Then I realize that the woman before me,
to the ounce,
was as heavy and as light as me.

Moments ago she stood here,
bare feet gripping a shivering scale,
fingers tugging small burdens back and forth
until balance was achieved.
Then she stepped off and back into her life,
leaving me to conjure her presence.

Is she ahead of me now,
running laps on a track
as familiar to her feet as mine?
Is she the person I might have become, had I
taken that turn, answered that call,
worn the dress with the daisies to that party?

I stand still on the scale.
I imagine her somewhere that is not here,
in skin that is not mine.
She turns her head.
She is sensing me.
I am the whisper of the life she might have known.

Poet's Biography:
  Alison McGhee's second novel, Shadow Baby, was published by Harmony / Random House in April, 2000. It won the 2001 Minnesota Book Award, was a Borders Original Voices selection, a BookSense 76 pick, was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the eight best novels of 2000, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Literature. Her debut novel Rainlight won the 1998 Great Lakes College Association National Fiction Award, the 1999 Minnesota Book Award, was a 1998 Reader's Choice Book Club Selection, a Borders Original Voices selection, and was named one of Library Journal's 1998 Best First Novels.

McGhee's short fiction and poetry have been published in many literary magazines. Her essays and book reviews appear regularly in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Among her grants and awards are a 1995-96 Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship, a 1996-97 Loft McKnight Award, and a MacDowell residency. McGhee was born and raised in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York and currently lives in south Minneapolis.

© 1999 - 2003, by the poets featured herein.