Friday, March 9, 2012

What Happens to Scout and Atticus

It's been awhile since I've put a poem on this blog.  But what would be a good poem for Lent?

Here's a poem that fits with Lenten themes and tones.  I wrote it for an anthology that wanted to show what happened to literary characters after the literary work ended.

At the time, I was rereading To Kill a Mockingbird.  I've always loved Scout, both the character in the book and the movie version.  I wanted to know what happened.

I can't pretend that this poem prevents a cheerful outcome.  I thought that the most tragic outcome would be for Atticus Finch to suffer Alzheimer's disease--that brilliant mind, silenced--what could be sadder?  You might say that I've discovered some.

I've shown this poem to several people who have parents who suffer from the disease.  They tell me that I've nailed the situation, and thus, the poem is painful for them.  I've worried some about that.  I've decided not to include it when I do poetry readings because it really brings down the mood and the momentum.

This poem is part of my second chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents.  If you have yet to get your copy, I'd be happy to sell you an autographed copy.

Scout at Midlife

Several times a day, Atticus asks,
“Who are you again?”
And lately Scout shudders
to realize she isn’t sure.

Once, she was surrounded
by people happy to help
define her, to shape
her, like red Alabama clay
transformed into a garden.

But now these people are ghosts
who haunt her thoughts.
Dill gone on to marry
Lottie Mae after Scout waited
too long to say yes.
Jem dead in a hunting accident.
Aunt Alexandra and Calpurnia both felled
by the same kind of stroke.

Now, surrounded by the rabid
dogs of self-recrimination and regret,
she has only her Ph.D. in Theology
and memories of an earlier Atticus
to remind her that she once lived
on an intellectual plane.

Atticus asks, “What is it called,
that thing between your foot and the floor?”
Scout thinks about possible answers:
a carpet, a shoe, a sock, a callus.

She looks at her framed credentials as she explains,
once again, the nomenclature
of everyday objects. Sometimes she answers
Atticus’ questions in Hebrew.
Some days, she chooses Aramaic, Latin
some other dead language.

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