Nebraska’s Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate from 2004 to 2006, offers “American Life in Poetry,” a column on contemporary poetry.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of us are preoccupied with keeping up a civil if not loving relationship with our parents. In this poem, Mark Irwin (who lives in Colorado) does a beautiful job in portraying, in a dreamlike manner, the complexities of just one of those relationships.
Mother came to visit today. We
hadn’t seen each other in years. Why didn’t
you call? I asked. Your windows are filthy, she said. I know,
I know. It’s from the dust and rain. She stood outside.
I stood in, and we cleaned each one that way, staring into each other’s eyes,
rubbing the white towel over our faces, rubbing
away hours, years. This is what it was like
when you were inside me, she said. What? I asked,
though I understood. Afterwards, indoors, she smelled like snow
melting. Holding hands we stood by the picture window,
gazing into the December sun, watching the pines in flame.
Poem copyright © 2010 by Mark Irwin, whose most recent book of poems is “Tall If, New Issues Poetry & Prose,” 2008. Poem reprinted from The Sun, July, 2010, by permission of Mark Irwin and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation.