Anne Myles

After Life        

In the Japanese film, the newly-departed must select
their happiest memory before they pass to the beyond—
to watch it as a movie, then spend eternity reliving it.
We blinked out of the cinema, my date and I,
she asking whether I knew what I would choose.
And oh, an empyrean of shame and worship flamed
invisibly inside me; there wasn’t any doubt:
four years past, sitting across from the one who left
in Heaven on Seven in her old office building,
shifting our cups on marble, awkward across the table.
I’d written I was moving, and her response had come—
she said she wished to see me before I went.
Now there she was in her great grief—her husband dead—
I in mine for missing her; it made a quiet room around us.
Her eyes were wet with tears, mine strangely dry,
though I’d cried daily. As if I were inside the dream
where I sang to her, I’m learning to fly without any wings,
and coming down is the hardest thing—aloft in ecstasy
to be witnessed once more, and whatever I’d come down from
wasn’t her, wasn’t then. Soon we were out on Wabash,
the El clattering overhead; she was hurrying
home to her children, though we didn’t mention
what she knew I knew, that the youngest had my name.
I stood and watched her vanish among the crowd,
white sleeves fluttering above her elbows.
She’s older now, I thought. But more than that it seemed
time did not exist, or rather I already lived somewhere
outside it, in my excessive love that felt devoid of waste,
regret—the thing that was most mine, deep school,
strange exaltation I’d carry on with me,
convinced it somehow explained me to myself,
though I didn’t yet think I’d find a common name for it,
and decades later I’m still trying to comprehend.
And decades later, wouldn’t I still choose that scene again?

Anne Myles’s work has appeared in On the SeawallNorth American ReviewSplit Rock Review, Whale Road Review, Lavender Review, and other journals. A recent transplant to Greensboro, NC, she is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Northern Iowa, and received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2021. She has been nominated for a Pushcart and was co-winner of the 2022 ellipsis… Award, judged by Carolyn Forché. Her chapbook What Woman That Was: Poems for Mary Dyer will appear from Final Thursday Press in August.

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