After the Divorce, I Hold a Yard Sale

They come in slowly, poker faced.
Such laying bare of earthly failings—
spread on folding tables, draped
on porch railings—

is sad and awkward, and they pass,
eyes down, before the bargain bins
and clothing racks that now confess
our venial sins:

The treadmill bought in a gust of hope
that fell, predictably, becalmed;
the set of free weights; the jump-rope,

enthusiasms failed. And Lord,
what hubris in these color schemes!
Which idiot was overfond
of whites and creams?

What germ of evil in our past
infected this computer’s sheath,
once beige, now with a yellowish cast
like rotten teeth?

The screw loose and the weak-linked chain:
Nothing in literature or art
so bluntly explicates the line
Things fall apart….

They lie there derelict, unhaggled,
wasted, remaindered, on the skids,
redemptionless. But now a gaggle
of college kids

has blown in on a gale of laughter,
talking trash. May youth forgive
the faults age will no longer suffer!
May these bones live.



First published in The Raintown Review, Winter 2008. From Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter © Maryann Corbett, 2013. Used by permission of Able Muse Press.

Maryann Corbett earned a doctorate in English with a specialization in medieval literature and expected to be teaching Beowulf and Chaucer and the history of the English language. Instead, she spent almost thirty-five years working for the Minnesota Legislature. Since returning to poetry about a decade ago, she’s published two chapbooks and three full-length collections. Her second book, Credo for the Checkout Line in Winter, was a finalist for the Able Muse Book Prize. Her most recent book, Mid Evil, won the 2014 Richard Wilbur Award and can be ordered at Amazon. Corbett is also the 2009 co-winner of the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize. Her poems and translations are widely published, and her work has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry, and The Writer’s Almanac. New work is forthcoming in American Arts Quarterly and Ecotone.


Poet’s Note

Poets are allowed to fictionalize—to tinker with reality for the sake of the poem. I’ve tinkered here in a major way, because I’ve been happily married for more than forty years. I’ve never known in a relationship of my own the bitterness and regret that can plague divorcing couples, though I’ve known it more than once through the lives of friends and relatives. But divorce was the element I needed to help the poem make emotional sense.

The real genesis of the poem was in the many yard sales typical of our neighborhood, which includes a number of rental properties and student tenants. The sight of those intimate materials of daily life displayed in all their imperfection and disorder has always given me a pang because they stand for the way our lives and loves change. That pang started me writing. But my earliest readers didn’t react the same way to the sale on its own. Many people enjoy the neighborly conviviality of yard sales, and the bargains as well. Why was I hanging so much pain on an innocent little yard sale? I needed a recognizable motive for the pang that I felt, and that I claimed these buyers might feel. I got it by expanding my formerly two-word title and making a few tweaks to play up the concept of shared contrition and regret. I decided to end by making our student neighbors a symbol of hope.

The one drawback of this use of fiction is that I don’t often include the poem in readings. So I’m especially pleased to have the poem featured in this column, and I hope that readers find it true to their own experience.

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