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American Life in Poetry: Column 267

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Here’s a poem by Susan Meyers, of South Carolina, about the most ordinary of activities, washing the dishes, but in this instance remembering this ordinary routine provides an opportunity for speculation about the private pleasures of a lost parent.

 

Mother, Washing Dishes

                                              She rarely made us do it—
we’d clear the table instead—so my sister and I teased
that some day we’d train our children right
and not end up like her, after every meal stuck
with red knuckles, a bleached rag to wipe and wring.
The one chore she spared us: gummy plates
in water greasy and swirling with sloughed peas,
globs of egg and gravy.

                                            Or did she guard her place
at the window? Not wanting to give up the gloss
of the magnolia, the school traffic humming.
Sunset, finches at the feeder. First sightings
of the mail truck at the curb, just after noon,
delivering a note, a card, the least bit of news.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by the Univ. of So. Carolina Press. Susan Meyers’ most recent book of poems is Keep and Give Away, Univ. of So. Carolina Press, 2006. Poem reprinted from Tar River Poetry, Vol. 48, no. 1, Fall 2008, by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.