Palindrome

What an intriguing idea: Reversing time to see your younger self moving forward in time as you move backward. What if everything that’s happening here has a reverse reality in an anti-world? Mueller’s poem plays with this idea of opposite motions.

What would you need to have on hand to meet that self midway through life? The speaker of this poem lists the things she will need from the past: lipstick, shampoo, transistor radio, Sergeant Pepper, acne cream, five-year diary with a lock. Why shampoo?

What would you need for that journey to meet your younger self?

Palindrome

by Lisel Mueller

There is less difficulty—indeed, no logical difficulty at all—in
imagining two portions of the universe, say two galaxies, in which
time goes one way in one galaxy and the opposite way in the
other. . . . Intelligent beings in each galaxy would regard their own
time as “forward” and time in the other galaxy as “backward.”
—Martin Gardner, in Scientific America
Somewhere now she takes off the dress I am
putting on. It is evening in the antiworld
where she lives. She is forty-five years away
from her death, the hole which spit her out
into pain, impossible at first, later easing,
going, gone. She has unlearned much by now.
Her skin is firming, her memory sharpens,
her hair has grown glossy. She sees without glasses,
she falls in love easily. Her husband has lost his
shuffle, they laugh together. Their money shrinks,
but their ardor increases. Soon her second child
will be young enough to fight its way into her
body and change its life to monkey to frog to
tadpole to cluster of cells to tiny island to
nothing. She is making a list:
            Things I will need in the past
                        lipstick
                        shampoo
                        transistor radio
                        Sergeant Pepper
                        acne cream
                        five-year diary with a lock
She is eager, having heard about adolescent love
and the freedom of children. She wants to read
Crime and Punishment and ride on a roller coaster
without getting sick. I think of her as she will
be at fifteen, awkward, too serious. In the
mirror I see she uses her left hand to write,
her other to open a jar. By now our lives should
have crossed. Somewhere sometime we must have
passed one another like going and coming trains,
with both of us looking the other way.
Lisel Mueller, “Palindrome” from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems.

“The Fisherman’s Farewell,” 1928, by Christopher Wood, shows Winifred and Ben Nicholson and their baby son, Jake.

T.S Eliot of course also speculated about time. Here is the beginning of Burnt Norton – the first of the Four Quartets

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.

Moyra Davey, Detail from 16 Photographs from Paris, 2009, C-print with postage, tape, ink

The featured image is Cabbages in an Orchard, 1894 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928).

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