Back Then

back then,
when they couldn’t tell us apart,
perched together right at that unfinished edge of life,
connected by a pulsing sureness,
the same humour,
always sliding unfinished into remembered laughter,
the same quotes,
from tired book spines, bent low
around our yellow lamp light,
the same wordless song
circling our conjoined souls;

they just shook their heads,
knowing they would find the end,
like a game of spot the difference,
trying to find
my whirling dervish in a coloured coat,
or your zen breath wafting under a different tree,
of course, they said, we should look harder,
maybe their unheeding hearts
are lit by separate stars,
and we let them;

and when it began to unravel,
they found our smiles,
curling on opposite sides,
our eyes turning away in discordant arcs,
then they saw our words spread-eagled
at awkward angles to the furrowed earth,
and they shook their heads,
and we walked away,
on roads that twisted and turned,
until they couldn’t find each other,
and we let them;

i read about you in the morning paper,
the years parenthesizing my words,
or were they yours,
like weary dimples guarding trembling lips,
i read again and again,
a twisted game of spot the difference,
looking for trees and stars and
white damask robes,
unwrinkling the words,
unblinking my eyes,
looking for something that was still the same,
and i knew they were seeing 
your grainy white smile,
knowing i would come up empty,
shaking their heads,
and on roads that have turned
into dusty strangers,
we still let them.

For Poets United where the midweek prompt is “Identity”.

47 thoughts on “Back Then

  1. So many wonderful images but i think the tired book spines curled together drew me in the most..when we find someone who blends into the edges of ourself (but does not swallow it) – it is truly a gift..


  2. I will revisit this poem again later in the day, as I am not sure that I understand a few things. I don’t really understand who the “they” as in “they couldn’t tell us apart” nor who the “us” is. And I am then assuming that the “I” and “you” mentioned as the poem goes on are the two who make up “us.” True? Anyway, perhaps I am not meant to understand this poem, but I would like to. If my question is off base, feel free to let me know.


    1. Thanks for asking Mary…appreciate it greatly. Yes, ‘us’ refers to the narrator and the other person (u and I) .. Maybe an alter ego. ‘They’ is everyone else… The rest of the world in a sense..or reality. Please do come back and tell me if that added up. Have a lovely day!


      1. Thanks, Thotpurge, but really I must admit that I still get lost in the ‘they’s’ and ‘we’s’ and ‘your’s’ and “I’s” in the poem. I am trying to think of a scenario. Perhaps two identical twins…perhaps people only see similarities at first…then differences later (smiles curling on opposite sides, etc.). But then there is the “I” in the last section that I had at first thought was part of the “us,” but it can’t be, I don’t think. And then at the end there is another ‘we.’ I probably shouldn’t think so hard. I wish I could say that it is now clear…but perhaps it is not meant to be clear, and that is fine..


  3. I am struck by “maybe their unheeding hearts are lit by separate stars”…….this is a very deep poem, and it speaks to my heart………the finding and then the loss of the beloved, impacted by the outer forces of the world that somehow affect the outcome……….golden, the time remembered….so poignant the reading of the other in the newspaper. Beautiful, Rajani.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Life’s experiences, do teach us a lot. We have all experienced moments of anxiety and defeat, and as a result have said or done things that don’t reflect who we are. This does not make these behaviors a part of our identity… Rather, they are momentary lapses or unique attempts to meet our needs in the moment.
    Very beautiful poem…:)))


  5. Thot, in reading this poem, I didn’t have the words, to understand fully, what you’re expressing, until I wrote, Caught Between Two Worlds, earlier this afternoon. Maybe, this is the highest honour, a poet can receive, in being told, they have inspired others, to look within themselves, for deeper meaning, within their own lives. Thank you, for inspiring, like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Am touched and honoured by your response. Thank you so much. I read your poem and salute you for wanting to be who you are in a world that does not want to understand for fear that it will hold a mirror to its failings. Keep moving and know that we are with you.


  6. You write of “we” but I think these are part of the narrator’s self, as choosing one road leaves another one behind. The question is whether one can enjoy the contrast or forever hold regret? This poem has a wistfulness that I often feel for a part of myself that could no longer meet the world for me, the innocent young adult. I admire her but had to let her go.


    1. Oh absolutely… I did write thinking it could be another person or really just an alter ego…a part of oneself. Thanks so much for picking up on that. Appreciate it greatly. Letting go of what cannot be is perhaps the hardest thing of all….reconciling with hope.


    1. Thanks Elizabeth.. absolutely.. what we might have been is the enduring mystery and quest. It connects in a way to your thought on a strange inner voice that keep urging us to find out.


  7. The opening really pulled me I have felt like that before this poem is filled with images of two selves merging as one.

    back then,
    when they couldn’t tell us apart,
    perched together right at that unfinished edge of life,


  8. I found this to be mesmerizing. The words you use are so perfect, they transport you inward, to where they resonate with our hearts. I love the imagery, the ending, the mystery of being so alike with another, or another part of ourselves. Lovely writing. Really.


  9. I thought of twins immediately. I love the sense of time that you interject that infers change and yet there is still something that still causes you to think of each other.
    Fantastic movement and thought in this poem.


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