Maureen N. McLane

Selected by Brett Fletcher Lauer

Maureen N. McLane’s poem “Haunt” does just that. Or perhaps more accurately, it is itself haunted, by the two versions of the anonymous Child Ballad No. 26 (“The Three Ravens” / “The Twa Corbies”) that the author acknowledges as reference points in her notes. These literary spirits hover over the lines—both in the black birds pecking the eyes of a knight and the language itself: “auld fail dyke,” “yonder greene plain,” and “bonnie blue een.” But—like all good hauntings—the poem includes our own anxieties, and “memories singing and shifting” for the dead.

—Brett Fletcher Lauer


There are too many cedars here
             hiding the sun hovering
                          over the dead
             the lakes won’t wash away
& the ghosts the locals talk of
                          are their memories
             singing and shifting unbidden I heard it
                          last night I saw it
                          on the staircase
             testimony weaving its own
                          shimmering cloth
             we wear to keep ourselves warm
                          & to spare the others
                                       our nakedness
             —better not to have heard
                                       the stories
                          the dead children
             lunatic mothers gimlet-
                          eyed servants and
             absentee lairds
the old murder ballads in Scotland
             depend on
there’s a dead soldier on auld fail dyke
             on yonder greene plain
             a knight centuries ago
there’s a dead woman in the river
dead baby in the cradle
             there’s a dead soldier in the desert
& three crows wonder over and over
             whether to cry out
                          an elegy
             or to sit on his breastbone and pike out
                          his bonnie blue een



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Maureen N. McLane’s essays have appeared in numerous publications. She is the author of Same Life, World Enough, My Poets, This Blue, and Mz N: the serial. She received the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Nona Balakian Award for Excellence in Book Reviewing. She teaches at New York University.

Brett Fletcher Lauer is the deputy director of the Poetry Society of America and the poetry editor of A Public Space. He is the author of the book of poems A Hotel in Belgium and the memoir Fake Missed Connections: Divorce, Online Dating, and Other Failures. He lives in Brooklyn and is the poetry co-chair of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

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