Corinna McClanahan Schroeder’s poem, “Years Later, I See My Old Self Stumbling Down the Street,” opens with a somewhat surprising olfactory association: “A scent I haven’t worn in years/McCormick’s Vodka from the plastic jug.” In these first two lines we get the chaser before the shot; the first line of the poem evokes a sense of wistful nostalgia, perhaps, we might think, for scent of perfume the speaker no longer owns. Not so, says the second line, informing us that the scent is anything but ascetic—it’s vodka in a plastic jug. The container for the liquor is most interesting, conjuring images of back porches, chain smoking, and dive bars, of being young and dangerous. Make no mistake, this speaker is seducing us just as much as she’s being seduced by this yesteryear doppelganger, this eidolon of who-she-once-was.
The speaker is seduced not so much by the specifics of the girl’s body, which she describes as knobbed and throaty—as she is by the situation this girl’s found herself in. The speaker finds perverse joy in the cyclicality of the role she and this “self,” this other girl, have found themselves in—as part of a “gaggle […] that wants to dance.” Side-of-the-road girls, short-skirts-and “stiletto-shake girls,” the sort of girls the speaker used to associate with—used to be—but now feels detached from, somewhat mothering toward.
That’s where the poem turns, this free-verse sonnet, on an impulse to mother, to protect this girl—all these girls—from the mistakes they are sure to make. Corinna finds tremendous poignancy in these lines, never allowing them to lapse into trite aphorisms; they feel necessarily urgent, born of scarred wisdom: “keep/your clutch on your wrist. Don’t let a stranger pour/your drinks.” The speaker, formerly one of these girls, realizes her advice will fall on deaf ears though, and in realizing this, she connects with the girl, the “old self,” by way of her impending sense of isolation, telling her in almost a whisper there will be “no one to smooth your ruffles back in place” when she tips “her punch-red mouth toward the toilet bowl.”
Corinna gives us a parable of womanhood that avoids judgment in favor of emotionally-nuanced observation, and though the sonnet brings a sense of completeness to any picture rendered within its parameters, the sense here isn’t as complete as it might appear. The sonnet depicts a cycle, illustrating how the “old self” brings recognition instead of resolution, a sense of reckless mystique that fades but never truly vanishes.
Tory Adkisson earned an MFA from The Ohio State University this spring, and is currently a PhD student in literature and creative writing at the University of Georgia. For more, see his website. His poem, “Winter in Paradise,” appears with Corinna McClanahan Schroeder’s “Years Later, I See My Old Self Stumbling Down the Street” in 32 Poems 10.1.