February 24, 2013 in Features

American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-2006
 

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.

Portraits

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 from his most recent book of poems, “Large White House Speaking,” New Issues, 2013 and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher.  Poem first printed in The Sun, July 2010. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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