Faith Shearin on Time and Aging

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Faith Shearin’s poem “The Old Boyfriends” can be read on our site. It appears in our Spring 2010 issue, alongside her poems “Not Knowing,” an elegy to a life on the beach slowly disappearing, and “Being Called Ma’am,” excerpted below:

A distance opens between the woman they see and the one
of my imagination and I am not someone they might laugh with
in the library but instead the stern face that appears from
behind the stacks to remind them of their manners.

Here, Shearin discusses how time and its effects shape these poems:


One of the mysteries of aging (for me) has been how much I feel like my former, younger self. I am continuously surprised by my image in mirrors and in the eyes of younger people. I wrote “Being Called Ma’am” while on a summer road trip with my daughter and husband. The young hikers I met on the trail saw me as someone unlike themselves but, before their distant, formal greeting, I imagined them as peers. I was embarrassed and a little sad to be reminded of my age.

The images in “Not Knowing” are drawn from the island where I grew up. Each season escorts a new row of cottages into the ocean; my mother and her friends take their sketch books after storms and draw pictures of the wreckage: beds in the street, staircases leading nowhere. Living with such beauty and destruction has given me a physical awareness of erosion and change. Our island is disappearing but it is also migrating: this appealed to me as a metaphor.

Is there a proper place for old boyfriends when you are married and middle aged? In “The Old Boyfriends” I look for the spaces they occupy and the places they haunt. Unlike old friends there is a silence around these men I once knew well. In the poem, I wanted to find a place for them: some kind of job or landscape. And I wanted to examine scenes of departure: the way people look when they are leaving or being left behind.

Faith Shearin is the author of two books of poetry: The Owl Question (Utah State University Press, 2004), which won the 2002 May Swenson Award, and The Empty House (Word Press, 2008). She has received awards from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts. Recent work appears in Salamander, Atlanta Review, and North American Review.
You can read her poems “Retriever,” “Fields,” and “What the Dead Don’t Need” online.