American Life in Poetry: Column 060
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Most of us have taken at least a moment or two
to reflect upon what we have learned from our mothers.
Through a catalog of meaningful actions that range
from spiritual to domestic, Pennsylvanian Julia Kasdorf
evokes the imprint of her mother's life on her own.
As the poem closes, the speaker invites us to learn
these actions of compassion.
What I Learned From My Mother
I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewing even if I didn't know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another's suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing, a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.
Reprinted from "Sleeping Preacher," University of
Pittsburgh Press, 1992, by permission of the publisher.
First printed in "West Branch," Vol. 30, 1992.
Copyright (c) 1992 by Julia Kasdorf. This weekly column
is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of
Congress, and the Department of English at the University
of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
American Life in Poetry: Column 058
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
A worm in an apple, a maggot in a bone, a person in the world.
What might seem an odd assortment of creatures is beautifully
interrelated by the Massachusetts poet Pat Schneider.
Her poem suggests that each living thing is richly awake to its
own particular, limited world.
There Is Another Way
There is another way to enter an apple:
a worm's way.
The small, round door
closes behind her. The world
and all its necessities
ripen around her like a room.
In the sweet marrow of a bone,
the maggot does not remember
of the mother, the green
shine of her body, nor even
the last breath of the dying deer.
I, too, have forgotten
how I came here, breathing
this sweet wind, drinking rain,
encased by the limits
of what I can imagine
and by a husk of stars.
Reprinted from "Another River: New and Selected
Poems," Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 2005, by
permission of the author. First printed in "Kalliope",
Vol. XII, No. 1, 1989. Copyright (c) 2004 by Pat Schneider.
This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation,
The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at
the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not
accept unsolicited poetry.
by Jackie Langetieg
Father Writes to Mother From California
I remember Grandmother’s voice
and crickets clicking behind the radiator,
feasting on dust from fresh baked bread
while I lay on the window seat
watching her polish the mound of dough
pushing and turning it on its powdery board.
Looking over at me, she dropped
a small plastic doll into the mix
folded and smoothed it into a ball
while she told me of earthquakes
in San Francisco
and how the ground would open
like cut dough,
then fold over a small girl and her mother
rolling, kneading and sealing them
into the bread of the earth, sent to the oven to bake,
disappearing beneath the cooling crust.
Previously published in “Wisconsin Academy Review,” Summer 2004