Judith Moffett

Mezzo Cammin

I mean to mark the Midway Day
With soundings in this verse-form. Say,
      Muse, how you hate it!
I know your taste for excess. But
These jingly rhymes must undercut,
      Counter, deflate it.

I trust them, and I can't trust you
To practice self-restraint. In lieu
      Of building
Some Watts Tower to my fulcrum age
I've shut you in this little cage;
      Start gilding!

The stanzas should be varied slightly,
Thus: some more and some less tightly
      Nipped at the waist
And ankles, odd lines fitting an extra s-
yllable in, or with a dextrous
      Flick of the wrist

Some rhymes set slant, and so forth; still
It's tight, you'll have to try, Muse. Trill
      Like a canary,
Bright jailbird, swing your wee trapeze!
Come come, don't sulk. Laudamus, please--
      Not miserere.

At 21, by now, what did
I want/expect? At least one kid,
      More like a triad;
The man; to've written books in whose
Thickets a troubled child could lose
      Itself, as I had.

Might I have made a kid-glove fit
Of wifery and kiddy lit
      And being Mother--
Slipped chipper as a Chinese foot
Stunted into my doll-size boot--
      Or sensed I'd smother

And howling burst the seams--or ripened
Like a summer squash? It's happened;
      The odd wife sprouts
In marriage as in fertilizer.
Single, shall I grow full-size, or ... ?
      Doubts or no doubts,

"The family experience"--
Engrossing, commonplace; one's chance
      To mother better
Than Mother did--I've missed that; I'm
Too old, now, to begin in time
      At last. A matter

I hope will come to matter less,
Though there's no question childlessness
      Bears harder
Than spinsterhood. Since all the strong
Kind types go off the market young,
      It's murder

To find one single, able, williing
Sane, and minimally appealing
But there's still time. "Too old" 's what's poignant.
Only one other disappointment
      Overpowers that:

Losing the Baptists: wash of grief.
(A hamstring harped-on loud enough
Not even Jesus, Ethicist
Survives this far; if not the Christ,

O Kinder, Kirche, let me go,
How can I bless you now? I know,
      I trust, the center
That holds, holds more than family
And faith, and warms a place for me
      In bleak mid-winter.

Start Spinster Lib? We spinsters pull
Up stakes and fly to Istanbul
      On low-cost charters!
Of the past ten, I've wangled three
Years foreign. And mobility
      Is just for starters:

Spinsters who spend the night don't phone;
Spinsters go trekking on their own
      And have a swell time.
One, on a solitary jaunt,
Comes close to people couples don't,
      Glued in the birdlime

Of one another's omnipresence
--Fresh views, late talk, warmth; tumescence
      Also (which thrives
On talk) unlooked-for, not surprising,
Nice. Nice way of improvising
      Alternate lives.

Then, after breakfast, off you go. It's
No bad thing for "nature poets"
      To solo through.
Though hiking with a friend is splendid,
Hike got less of me than friend did
      When one came too.

In every sense you're more acute
Alone. You note what's what en route,
      You're not distracted.
Plus (irony) so long as you're
Abroad upon the tumbling moor
      Where Life's enacted--

So perilous, so gorse-gilt, so
Abundant--friendships seem godsent.
      Always, you're shaken--
Joy is a shock; you're ... reverent.
By tough old maid wayfarers no
      True friend gets taken

For granted, nor do loving's other
Faces blear through custom either.
      Spinsters have learnt
To value what they can't get used to--
Values many a wife's reduced to,
      Wishing she weren't!

Too cramped, she envies (irony)
Us bachelor girls, so long less free
      Than outcast! Yearning
To spread roots in a roomy plot,
We crumpled them into some pot
      And went sojourning.

The life abroad calls into question
Style, assumptions Yank and Christian,
      Habits (how you
"Two-handed engine"?--fork your plateful);
Forces thought and choice. I'm grateful.
      The road from Lou-

isville to Lund was passing strange
But now I'm through I wouldn't change,
      Cresting my peak age,
For kids and home. A Lu:uhv'le shut
Mind, close and smoky as a hut,
      Came with that package.

Things have the disadvantages,
It's claimed, of their advantages--
      Of light and air, then.
I think so. No one gets it all.
The grass is green here too; I call
      My draw a fair one.

Originally appeared in The Little Magazine, reprinted in Whinny Moor Crossing (Princeton, 1984).


Judith Moffett has published ten books in five genres, including two volumes of original poetry, Keeping Time and Whinny Moor Crossing, and two of Swedish poetry in translation.   Her work has appeared in Poetry, Kenyon Review, The New Yorker, and Literary Imagination, in many other periodicals, and in numerous anthologies. She was awarded an NEA Fellowship Grant in poetry and an NEH Translation Grant, as well as grants from the Ingram Merrill Foundation among others, in support of her poetry and translating. She taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and for many years at the University of Pennsylvania.  She now divides her time between Swarthmore PA and her farm in Kentucky.


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