A few years ago, as I read To Kill a Mockingbird again for the first time in many years, I wondered about these characters, about what happens to them as they grow up. This tendency of mine used to drive my graduate school professors crazy. I remember one shaking his head, commenting on my response to Leopold and Molly Bloom, "These characters are fiction. They're not real. They don't exist outside of this book." I had been talking about the two of them surviving their marital crisis and growing old, I think. Interesting that I remember the response of the professor far more vividly than whatever I had been saying to provoke that response.
In a different time period, I might have seen that as a sign to switch into the MFA program. But at the time, the University of South Carolina was in the process of dismantling its Creative Writing program that used to award MAs and Ph.Ds in Creative Writing to transition to an MFA program, so I didn't really see that as an option. Besides, I wanted a job teaching at a small, liberal arts college, and for that dream to come true, I knew I needed the Ph.D.
I learned to muffle my tendency to see characters as real, but as I returned to creative writing, I've found excellent writing prompts. I love imagining what happens to the main characters in fairy tales and myth. I love exploring the minor characters in these tales. I've returned to the literature of my grad school days again and again when I'm stuck for ideas. Often those threads lead me in interesting directions.
I'm afraid my depiction of Scout's future will not be a comfort. I also wonder about the timeline. Could a woman who was a child in the 1930's grow up to get a Theology degree? When did the first woman get advanced degrees in Theology in the twentieth century? A Google search hasn't told me much, so I won't worry about it too much.
Here is the poem. It is scheduled to be included in the collection Afterwords.
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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