Last Days

By Maxine W. Kumin 1925–2014
We visit by phone as the morphine haze   
retreats, late afternoon, most days.   
Our mingled past is set against the pin-   
hole lights of cars cruising the blacked-out streets:   

we four in the college smoker popping No-Doz,   
honors students carrying heavy course loads   
tipped sideways by sex, one by one discarding   
our virginities on the altar of inverse pride,   

ironing our blouses with Peter Pan collars   
to wear on dates with those 90-day Wonders,   
ensigns in training for the Second World War   
in the Business School across the Charles River.

We called ourselves the Unholy Four.   
Whenever any three of us met on campus   
we huddled to bray Austria! Russia! Prussia!
in unison. It came out sounding like Horseshit!

Post graduation one year, look at us:   
my new husband atop your even newer   
one's car singing the bawdy verses   
of "Roll Me Over" in a drunken tenor   

while the scandalized uncles and aunties   
—it wasn't enough that you'd wed a Chinese—   
wrung their hands. You drove off   
trailing Just Married in two languages.   

Now BJ is gone, and Hettie. You have, they say,   
only days. It is my plan to go with you   
as far as the border. I've been that far—   
Did I come back from there morally improved?   

Somehow better equipped to support you   
this side of the douane and wave,   
your two cats curled like commas beside you   
as the barrier lifts and you drive on through?

Source: Poetry (October 2002).


This poem originally appeared in the October 2002 issue of Poetry magazine

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October 2002
 Maxine W. Kumin


An enduring presence in American poetry, Maxine Kumin’s career spanned over half a century. She was the recipient of prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award. She was the poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1981-1982, and taught at many of the country’s most prestigious universities, including MIT, Princeton, and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Growing Old, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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