September 25 – Mind Games

by Nancy Rankie Shelton

Thoughts jump into my brain
running around and around
bad ones trampling
good ones
good ones, hopeful ones,
try to grab unwanted invaders
in tight double-fisted clutches
to shove them back out of bounds.

The frantic race, the struggle
becomes so disturbing
the only way
to calm the panic
is to force
other, stronger thoughts
into the overcrowded boxing ring
my mind has become.

So I listen to audio books
blare my music
binge on Netflix TV shows
season after season in one sitting.
I plaster cracks
in the walls and
slather paint
over the repairs.

And I run.
First two miles, then four, then six, now ten.
I swim, thirty minutes at a time,
totally exhausting myself
so that when I come home
my mind will let me
read a book while
I soak in my hot bathtub.

It’s the end of September,
the end of summer,
more than three years after
Jack died.
I’m adding another hobby
designed to
overpower my brain.
I’m cycling.

My first outing with John
was twenty miles.
My second with Nick
was ten.
My next will be
with just me
to see how far I need to go
to completely exhaust myself.

All this running and swimming and cycling
has changed the way I look
to my friends.
I’m told I look great
better than I’ve looked in years.
My mirror
utters no such

My mirror reveals
increased and deepened lines
that disfigure my neck
and frame my eyes.
Skin sagging from my biceps
mark me old and tired.
Age spots tell more truth
than my friends.

And the thoughts,
good ones and bad,
keep jumping into my mind.
The battle rages
as I try to hold
onto an old self
an old life that slips away,
piece by piece.

Piece by piece I’m losing
Jack, my memory,
his belongings,
things shared
are fading and disappearing.
In tight, double-fisted clutches
I try to protect them, keeping them
in bounds, in my mind.


Nancy Rankie Shelton is a Literacy Professor at UMBC. She’s an avid reader and writer. Most of her publications are in literacy education and politics, but her first non-academic publication will be released this fall. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.


4 responses to “September 25 – Mind Games

  1. Ah, Nancie, beautiful poem! The Fear of Forgetting! It struggles with the need to move out of the pain, to outrun it. Maybe it’s different for others, but for me there has been no forgetting, even though I have gone on and married someone new, and become Grammy to his grandchildren, and am happy in my new life. Very happy! But I remember – in fact, new memories, happy ones, keep showing up, surprising me, and I realize my whole life is moving forward with me, trailing along. Nothing left behind but the pain, and I had no wish to keep that! I wish you healing (which is not the same as forgetting, by any means!!), and good health and good fortune.

    • Nancy Rankie Shelton

      Thank you Samantha. I’m happy more days than not now and know that my life has taken a turn upwards but in my pensive moments I sink into my writing. I’m happy for you and your new life – especially in your role as Grammy!

  2. Thanks for sharing so poignantly your struggle as you cope with grief and loss. My 46 year old son died 2009 and husband died 2010. Yes, I am moving forward, but with some of the parallel angst that you are. Yes, I have happily re-married, but so much of my former way of life has left me without the usual boundaries that marked my days. Put a move in there and retirement which adds to my struggle to figure out who I am now.

  3. I like your wording – “parallel angst”. We face each day hoping to smile more than the last but we also know that even in our new, happy way of life we still feel just a little bit sad.

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