Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: ‘After the Divorce, I Hold a Yard Sale,’ by MaryAnn Corbett

Towards the end of the poem, the tone turns from its litany of the way things, bodies and relationships, “fall apart” (an allusion to Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”) to something more optimistic. As is often seen in the voltas in a sonnet, the turn is cued by a disjunctive, the “but now” in line 3 of the poem’s next-to-last stanza. At this point a second group of people enter the scene and poem. Whereas the first group moved “slowly, poker-faced” and with eyes cast “down,” this one is a noisy “gaggle / of college kids” who, in an amusing pun on the merchandise under their gaze, are “talking trash.” That wonderfully vernacular, alliterative phrase works with the “gale of laughter” to evoke youthful enthusiasm, joie de vivre, the same blissful ignorance presumably enjoyed by the now-divorced couple in their heyday.

The last three lines of the poem, spoken as an injunction or an imprecation, raise it from the level of occasional and personal to universal:

……………………May youth forgive
The faults age will no longer suffer!
May these bones live.

On one level, the junk on the tables—the detritus and relics of a marriage—are the “bones” the speaker hopes the kids will not dismiss. She’s hoping they will not judge the sellers’ foolishness: the lack of self-knowledge that leads a person to keep buying exercise equipment they will never use, the inability to part with things that are obsolete or broken, the futile hope that light-colored clothes or furniture will remain pristine. The divorced couple—“old age”—have lived long enough to see the folly of these purchases, but youth is blessed with the naiveté and infinite optimism that can infuse these things—and by metaphoric extension, human relationships—with new life.

The speaker is showing new life, too, in hoping that the young people have retained enough innocence to be able to proceed as blindly as their elders have, making their own mistakes along the way. “[A]ge will no longer suffer” certain faults, but the speaker hopes these kids will be able to “forgive” them in their own budding relationships. She’s aware that among today’s gaggle of kids is tomorrow’s cadre of divorcees setting up yard sale tables; the parallel between the “gust of hope” that overtook one of the old divorcees in his or her youth and the “gale of laughter” that the kids blow in on makes this clear. Taken in this context, “May these bones live” come closer to its original (I think, biblical) meaning, with the speaker hoping not just that the things will be repurposed in some college dorm, but also that relationships in general and people in particular (her, the older shoppers, the kids) will persist. And they do, of course, in this moving and delightful poem.


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Paradise Drive book coverRebecca Foust’s fifth book, “Paradise Drive,” won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and was reviewed in the Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Huffington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Review of Books, and elsewhere. Recognitions include the 2015 American Literary Review Award for Fiction, the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2014 Constance Rook Creative Nonfiction Award, and fellowships from the Frost Place, MacDowell Colony, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and West Chester Poetry Conference. “Paradise Drive” can be ordered at For more information visit


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