Poem #8: “Flashback”


It is an old cardboard box,
dark brown and pitted by age,
topped by a dusty, misshapen lid.
I haven’t opened it—haven’t even
seen it—in decades, and now
it sits there accusing me of neglect.
It was an old fossil my mom
discovered in her garage,
and she wanted it gone.
“It’s yours,” she told me.
“Take it with you.”

I lift the lid and the ancient
glue gives way. A side flap
pops loose, but the other
three hold their shape.

A Dungeons and Dragons
boxed set stares up at me,
bringing back a few happy
memories of sword play
and magic spells. I lift it
and find the silver-gray
graduation cap, flattened
by time and long-forgotten.

I cringe and force back
the unpleasant memories.


Yes, that was what they
used to call me: Muskrat.

I can still feel the cold, hard
concrete floor of my father’s
fur shed; the piles of muskrats
stacked like cordwood next to
the skinning chair; the short
brown fur nestled in my palm;
the smell of tainted flesh and
clingy little balls of excrement
squeezed from the naked carcasses;
the blood caked on my fingers
after hours and hours of skinning….

I had buried that in the past
to collect dust and mildew,
and now it’s back again….

Why did I keep that cap?
Why do I still keep it?
And the graduation program?
The tassels?
The prom night catastrophe?
The diploma was the
only thing that mattered to me,
and I keep it with my college diplomas.

Then come the little knick-knacks:
Christmas ornaments from my grandma
that I never used, an ashtray I made
that looks like a rumpled fez, a package
of men’s handkerchiefs I never opened.
I never missed any of those,
but I still can’t throw them out.

A stack of letters to add to the
box of correspondence I’ve kept
in my closet for years.

Bank receipts I’ll have to shred,
even though I haven’t banked there
since the 1990s.

Nestled in among them
like a dagger from the past
is the Survival Knife.

I smile.
My dad bought it for me, and—
as gifts go—it was poorly chosen,
and I had forgotten about it.

He wanted me to be like him—
a hunter, a trapper, a man’s man—
but I wasn’t, and I never would be.
I was bound for college—eventually—
to become the “educated idiot”
he always dreaded I would be.

I never used that Survival Knife,
and I always thought it was a waste
of money, just like the ornaments
and handkerchiefs.

Until it saved my life.

It happened about six years
after I wore that cap and gown.
I have always struggled with depression,
and I was deeply entrenched in one at the time.
It was the first—and only—time I thought of suicide.

Oh, I had thought about
being dead before, about
who would miss me, about
who would be at my funeral,
but I never really wanted to die.

Until then.

I could not live
the way I was, and as
I lay there contemplating
how to kill myself, I thought
about that Survival Knife.

Immersed in that unfeeling stupor,
unable to lift my head from the pillow,
unable to move my arms and legs,
I smiled—weakly—and almost
laughed aloud.

The irony of ending my life
with a Survival Knife saved me.

If I could still laugh, I realized,
then I could still live.

Was that why
I buried that relic
in my mom’s garage,
hoping it would never be

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