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American Life in Poetry: For Elizabeth, Who Loved to Square Dance

By Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate 2004-06

At a friend’s wedding, as she stood in her reception line, an older woman leaned in and whispered, “Always rinse your dishrag in cold water so it won’t stink.” Advice! Christine Stewart-Nuñez lives and teaches in South Dakota, and the following poem capturing her grandmother’s witty advice is from her book “Untrussed,” from the University of New Mexico Press.

For Elizabeth, Who Loved to Square Dance

I wore Grandma Liz’s pearls

for play, a plastic strand long

enough to pool on the carpet

over my stubbed toes. When I pull

them over my head now, I smell

phantoms: cigarettes, Esteé

Lauder. I don’t smoke or spritz

on perfume. I don’t layer polyester

or perm my hair. I’ve slipped off

my wedding ring as she did, signed

divorce. What advice would she offer

for life between husbands? Wear red

lipstick and always leave it behind.

Poem copyright 2016 by Christine Stewart-Nuñez, “For Elizabeth, Who Loved to Square Dance,” from “Untrussed,” (University of New Mexico Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. 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 submissions.

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