A few days ago, I got my contributor's copy of New Delta Review, with its captivating front cover art. My poem, "Huck at Midlife," appears in the Winter 2009 issue.
I wrote this poem a few years ago after getting an e-mail from a friend. She had gone to Mepkin Abbey and really enjoyed sitting by the Cooper River. She said it reminded her of Huck Finn and all those wonderful descriptions of the river; I think she gave me the last line, in fact, which I'm fairly sure comes from Mark Twain himself.
Her rapturous e-mail sent me back to the novel, which I don't like as much as I feel like I should like, but I can understand its importance to American Literature. And as I often do, I found myself wondering about what happens after the novel ends--it's a practice that drove some of my graduate professors nuts; I remember one of them saying to me, "They're characters in a novel. When the novel is over, so is the life of the character."
However, I've found much creative fodder in imagining the lives of characters 10 or 20 years later; maybe you, too, might find this writing prompt to lead you to some interesting territory. I wonder if a book made of only these kind of poems would be compelling or would it get tiresome? I'm about 60 poems away from having to worry about this issue, but I still find myself wondering . . .
In the meantime, here's the poem:
Huck at Midlife
Huck reconsiders his adolescence, that dogged
pursuit of unshod feet and freedom
of all sorts. At what point
did he decide that money mattered?
Huck rests his hands on his paunch, a pregnant
flab of flesh foretelling of future heart attacks.
He wonders what’s become of Jim
and all the other friends of his youth.
Have they forgiven him for the arrogance
that comes with youth? He flushes
each time he thinks of wrong directions,
fleeing north only to find himself back in slave territory.
Huck balances the bank accounts,
his ledgers neat and contained. He’s ahead
with his scheduled personnel reviews,
taxes paid according to the timetable.
He returns to his snug house, the wilderness
kept outside where it belongs.
His wife has kept dinner warm. She bustles
in the kitchen while he kisses his sleeping children.
Only late at night does his faithfulness
waver. Only after midnight does he let
himself think of his first love,
that river, awful, still, and grand.
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