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Cast Off

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If thy own hand . . . offend thee
      —Matthew 18:8

Self-hatred? No, no dear: that seems inflated
chagrin: the shame you feel when friends withdraw
for reasons they leave tactfully unstated,
leaving you to guess at your faux pas

From all you did and didn’t say for ages,
as in some vast congressional report,
your sin, at last, is lost among the pages;
a snow of detail cuts inquiry short.

In downtown windows where late sunlight glares,
you see yourself, as if you’d never met.
Who is this rumpled lookalike who wears
a blouse like yours, the armpits dark with sweat?

Your eighth grade diary still makes you cringe
saved—for what?—that you might now despise
pages time has lent a jaundiced tinge
pouring forth their daisy-dotted i’s?

Some second-guesser in you finds untrue
the echo of your own voice in your ears,
and wants to ask which one most sickens you:
the voice that whines with neediness and fears,

Or one no doubts can ever undermine,
that speaks before a general assembly,
proclaiming loudly what to do with thine
own hand (or his, or mine), should it offend thee?
Source: Poetry (September 2009)

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This poem originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

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Cast Off

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