This week’s installment of American Life in Poetry deals with time and differences between our current and former selves. And it deals with notes scribbled in the margins of a book, so all the Kindle haters should appreciate it.

American Life in Poetry: Column 219

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

As we all know, getting older isn’t hard to do. Time continues on. In this poem, Deborah Warren of Massachusetts asks us to think about the life lived between our past and present selves, as indicated in the marginal comments of an old book. There’s something beautiful about books allowing us to talk to who we once were, and this poem captures this beauty.

Marginalia

Finding an old book on a basement shelf—
gray, spine bent—and reading it again,
I met my former, unfamiliar, self,
some of her notes and scrawls so alien

that, though I tried, I couldn’t get (behind
this gloss or that) back to the time she wrote
to guess what experiences she had in mind,
the living context of some scribbled note;

or see the girl beneath the purple ink
who chose this phrase or that to underline,
the mood, the boy, that lay behind her thinking—
but they were thoughts I recognized as mine;

and though there were words I couldn’t even read,
blobs and cross-outs; and though not a jot
remained of her old existence—I agreed
with the young annotator’s every thought:

A clever girl. So what would she see fit
to comment on—and what would she have to say
about the years that she and I have written
since—before we put the book away?