Scraps of a Life

When I said childhood, what I meant was
the silhouette of a witch on my wall
a coffee table that served as a slide
a fall breeze whispering through kitten fur
the half-frozen mud at the edge of the pond
the sound of my brother picking my lock

When I said sexuality, what I meant was
my unshakeable fear of rollercoasters and my body
soft serve ice cream, and its risks
deep dish pizza, and its consequences
the hard slyness of Missouri eyes
cold nights in Massachusetts crying near the ceiling

When I said love, what I meant was
two sun-baked bodies on a gravel beach
my sweater that smells of campfire and whiskey
one final turn on the carousel
the fatal attraction of a man with a cigarette
your face in the amber light of jazz

When I said middle age, what I meant was
fallen pine needles rusted with time
the taste of burnt toast and spicy noodles
the scraping hinge of a sore hip
my crooked middle toe, numb and broken

When I said you’re beautiful, what I meant was
your old phonograph and your white straw hat
my grandfather’s gold-tipped walking stick
the leather easy chair with the brass buttons

When I said marriage, what I meant was
the afterglow of laughter in our yard
the touch of your hand on a cold night

When I said goodbye, what I meant was
an empty pair of sandals on the beach

Cynthia J. McGean


Cynthia J. McGean is an educator, writer and theater artist with a background in social services. Her work spans a range of genres, including short stories in publications such as SQ Magazine, VoiceCatcher, Kaleidotrope and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as stage and radio scripts produced around the country.

Note: this poem is in response to the poems of Li-Young whose works explore the dialogue between what is said and what is meant. See especially his works Book of My Nights and Behind My Eyes.

© 2020