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Thursday, December 24, 2020


by Susan Terris

On a train from Victoria to Lake Louise, I found a deck of cards called 52 Things to Try Once in Your Life. Because I’m rather superstitious, it took ten years and sheltering because of covid-19 to remove the cellophane and look at the deck. Though I meant to look forward, the cards kept demanding I look back. Shuffling randomly, I decided it does not matter how many circuses I have watched or that, more than once, I’ve asked a stranger out. Ridden a motorcycle? Yes, as a teenager, though forbidden, I rode Louis Guttman’s around Hampton Park. Written the Great American Novel? Do 21 books published for children and young adults, add up to a yes here? And sure, I’ve milked a cow, yawned through an all-nighter, tasted snow, bought a lottery ticket, ridden in a hot air balloon, been on a safari. And I’ve flown a kite, changed a diaper, fed a horse, and slept under the stars. What about invent? Yes, in the early days of computers I trained with secretaries from law offices and PG&E on the new IBM Displaywriter. While doing this, I “invented” 2 new work-arounds for the machine that IBM added to their original brochure. Children’s books written: yes, already answered. I’ve gone fishing, read a whole book in one night, pooped in the woods, won awards, gone skinny dipping, been massaged, written and received love letters. (Is this getting boring? Too bad. Can’t stop here.) I’ve made a wish, bought stock, spoken in public. Front row seats? Yes, Saw Othello with James Earl Jones and noted in his death scene that he had plantars warts on the bottoms of both feet. I have written to a president but won’t say who it was or if I was praising or blaming him. And of course, I’ve been to a baseball game, a beauty salon, dressed to thrill (or tried to), climbed many mountains (literal and figurative), left a big tip, supported a good cause—like the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. I’ve watched something grow—not only my plants but my children, grandchildren, and now am watching great grandchildren.
I’ve also gone singing in the rain when I was about 17, after seeing Singin’ in the Rain, at the old Esquire movie theater with my best friend Susie and my 7 year old sister where we exited into rain, put up our umbrellas, and walked along the top of a low wall singing, "Singin’ in the Rain." But wait—stop. This is where the questions begin to get harder. Yes, I’ve had a tattoo yet not the one anyone wants. After a mastectomy and reconstruction, the newly formed nipple and areola were tattooed. So now, after this sober moment, I fan out the handful of unaccomplished or undesired cards. I’ve never read only the first and last page of War and Peace or any other book, never owned an autographed picture of someone famous, never stayed in bed all day even when sick. I have never thought of trying to forgive my parents who gave me little to complain about. I’ve never made a Life List or Bucket List but would like to visit the Hermitage Museum, see Angkor Wat, Easter Island, and the Great Barrier Reef (so I guess in my head, I have an unwritten list).

This takes me to the final two cards. Two yesses, I have saved for last. Have I asked important Life Questions? Yes, so each morning when I look in the bathroom mirror, I ask myself: Who am I? What am I doing? And why? Where am I going and why? Yes, there still is one more card. It says Face Mask. At any other time in my life, I would have just said yes: made them out of paper, papier maché, clay, plaster. Carved them from wood. But now, in the Time of Covid, the card haunts me. Eyes of the mask are closed like a death mask. And now I wear masks everywhere. Now the face mask is part of my morning mirror’s life questions. Now not where am I going, but will I or we ever go anywhere again or will we ever stop being afraid, stop masking (both literally and figuratively) our fears. Is there, I ask my mirror image each morning, even going to be a future? Will we ever again return to the life and the world as we once knew it?

Susan Terris’ recent books are Familiar Tense (Marsh Hawk) 2019; Take Two: Film Studies (Omnidawn) 2017, Memos (Omnidawn) 2015; and Ghost of Yesterday: New & Selected Poems (Marsh Hawk) 2012. She's the author of 7 books of poetry, 17 chapbooks, 3 artist's books, and one play.  Journals include The Southern Review, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, and Ploughshares. A poem of hers appeared in Pushcart Prize XXXI. A poem from Memos was in Best American Poetry 2015. Her newest chapbook is Dream Fragments, which won the 2019 Swan Scythe Press Award. Ms. Terris is editor emerita of Spillway Magazine and a poetry editor at Pedestal.