At the Mall

By Carl Dennis

Featured art: Youth by Frederick Carl Frieseke

It’s a long time now since the cedar tree
That you and Martha Spicer inscribed
With your twined initials was reduced to shingles
For a house later torn down to make way
For the Northtown Mall, the very mall
You walk now on rainy mornings.

In a few more weeks of the exercise program
Prescribed by your doctor, you should feel the strength
Lost with your triple-bypass finally returning.
Then you’ll confront the years still left you
With the zeal they merit, or the fortitude.
Be sure you’re in line when the mall doors open,
Before the aisles fill with serious shoppers
Intent on finding items more sturdy
Than their bodies are proving to be.
Could Martha Spicer be among them?
What you felt for each other back then
Didn’t survive the separation of college,
Though now it seems careless of you
Not to have kept in touch. Maybe you’ve passed her
Unrecognized as she’s looked for gifts
To make her grandchildren curious
About the world they live in, a book, say,
Devoted to local trees. On the cover
A cedar stands resplendent, the very kind
She carved her initials in long ago
With a boy whose name may be resting now
On the tip of her tongue. Try to imagine her
Hoping he hasn’t wasted his time on wishes
That proved impractical, like her hill house
Bought for its vista that proved in winter
Inaccessible to a snowplow. If he made that mistake,
Let him move back to town as she did
And focus like her on keeping her windows open
So a fragrance blown from afar can enter
When it wants to enter, and be made welcome.


Carl Dennis is the author of many books of poems, including Selected Poems, 1974-2004, and, most recently, Night School. A winner of the Ruth Lilly Prize and The Pulitzer Prize, he lives in Buffalo, New York.

Originally published in NOR 9 Spring 2011

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