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Tuesday, August 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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American Life in Poetry: ‘Estelle’

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

Alaska Quarterly Review put out a special double issue late in 2017 to celebrate its 35th year, a very long tenure for a literary magazine. Among the many fine works I found there was this touching portrait of his mother by Michael Mark, who lives in California.


Even when they danced, Dad couldn’t keep her

in his arms. She’d spin off, leave him to fade

back into the circle of others, clapping, hooting.

Days when the pond would freeze, mothers took

their children’s hands and worried them around

in slow circles. Mom raced in uncharitable loops

past me and my brother like we weren’t hers.

Same way she didn’t see my report card Fs as Fs.

She’d take the matching color pen and glide

the ballpoint so it looked like the B was always there.

You could ask how she convinced the butcher

his scale was wrong, how she’d roll her cart away

with three-eighths of a pound of corned beef, paying

for only a quarter – fat trimmed, the way dad liked,

but she’d skim that question like she did all surfaces,

even air. Now she’s given her own memory the slip.

Doctors say there’s no reaching her.

Poem copyright 2017 by Michael Mark, “Estelle,” from Alaska Quarterly Review, (Vol. 34, No. 1 & 2, 2017). 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.

Wordcount: 288
Tags: ae, books

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