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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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American Life in Poetry: ‘My Mother’s Van’

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

How many of our mothers set aside what they wanted to do with their lives and chose instead to make good lives for us? This poem is from Faith Shearin’s sixth book, “Darwin’s Daughter,” published in 2017 by Stephen F. Austin State University Press. Shearon, of West Virginia, has become one of this column’s favorite poets.

My Mother’s Van

Even now it idles outside the houses

where we failed to get better at piano lessons,

visits the parking lot of the ballet school

where my sister and I stood awkwardly

at the back. My mother’s van was orange

with a door we slid open to reveal

beheaded plastic dragons and bunches

of black, half-eaten bananas; it was where

her sketchbooks tarried among

abandoned coffee cups and

science projects. She meant to go places

in it: camp in its back seat

and cook on its stove while

painting the coast of Nova Scotia,

or capturing the cold beauty of the Blue Ridge

mountains at dawn. Instead, she waited

behind its wheel while we scraped violins,

made digestive sounds

with trumpets, danced badly at recitals

where grandmothers recorded us

with unsteady cameras. Sometimes, now,

I look out a window and believe I see it,

see her, waiting for me beside a curb,

under a tree, and I think I could open the door,

clear off a seat, look at the drawing in her lap,

which she began, but never seemed to finish.

Poem copyright 2018 by Faith Shearin, “My Mother’s Van,” from “Darwin’s Daughter,” (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2018). 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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