The Teenage Babysitter Walks Home Across the Mountains At Midnight

Anita Skeen

Anita Skeen

The Teenage Babysitter Walks Home At Midnight was selected as part of MSU Library Short Edition's call for submissions on the theme of "Home," in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibition "Where We Dwell." Anita Skeen in Professor Emerita in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH) at Michigan State University, and the founding director of the RCAH Center for Poetry. She has been the coordinator of the Creative Arts Program at Ghost Ranch for more than 40 years and coordinator of the Fall Writing Festival for 23 years. She is the author of six volumes of poetry: Each Hand A Map (1986); Portraits (1990); Outside the Fold, Outside the Frame (1999); The Resurrection of the Animals (2002); Never the Whole Story (2011); When We Say Shelter (2007), with Oklahoma poet Jane Taylor; and The Unauthorized Audubon (2014), a collection of poems about imaginary birds accompanied by the linocuts of anthropologist/visual artist Laura B. DeLind. With Taylor, she co-edited the literary anthology Once Upon A Place: Writings from Ghost Ranch (2008). Her poetry, short fiction, and essays have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies. She is currently working with Laura DeLind on a second collection of poems and prints, Even the Least of These.

Close the door, then down the steps from the stoop. Trudge up the bank, grab the skinny sassafras to pull me uphill. Feel the sap on my hand. Porch light flicks off behind me, though I don't hear the click. I've always loved the dark, being alone in the dark. No monsters under my bed when I was little, no hatchet murderer closed up in my closet. Only the dust, only my clothes, and maybe Tippy, hiding so as not to have to go out to her doghouse at night. Tonight there is a moon, Heaven's steady flashlight, as I head up over the first ridge. But not always. I know these hills, I know the paths the deer take, the openings in the tangled brush they rush through, leaving a gap where I can pass. No wild animals, though Stevie swears he's heard a cougar over by the Muddy Mountains. How would he know a cougar if he heard one? Probably one of the Whittle kids yowling. They're the worst to take care of. Leaving the lights in their house behind me, the dark is safety, not terror. And it's quiet, so quiet when I come out through Devil's Den and cross the gravel path. The stars don't chatter non-stop, don't need to go pee or hear James and the Giant Peach for the hundredth time. The Big Dipper is empty, but I don't have to fill it from the fridge. Almost home now, just the trail by the round things, and sometimes, in the distance, the lights in the Cline's house, if they're still up. My feet can feel every blade of grass, every pebble I might pick up for my pocket, if there was light. Walking home in the dark, I am not my body: leaves, scurrying animal, wind.

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