Monday, October 31, 2005


This weekend I will be going to the mountains for a writing conference, and will be staying with my parents. I'm especially excited about taking a class at the conference taught by Kathryn Stripling Byer, NC Poet Laureate. Here is a poem by her that fittingly talks about a trip home (though for her an imaginary one) to her mother and father with all that entails: worry, guilt, and idle comments. Wish me luck and Happy Halloween!

Thinking Myself Home

I have to look up and over the trees
all the way to the mountains I see in the distance,

then hang a left soon as I get there,
thinking my way down the Blue Ridge

and into the piedmont just south
of Atlanta. From there it's a straight

shoot to home,
if I still want to go, which I do

because this is the best way,
by stealth, no one knows I am coming,

no cake to be baked,
and my mother not worrying most of her day

by the telephone, clearly imagining
fifty car pile-ups,

the ambulance wailing, the whole bloody
nine miles of interstate closed

for the body count.
No idle comments about my new haircut,

my extra pounds. I could be dust
on the air or a bright stab of light passing through.

I don't have to stay long.
I can leave when I want to, without feeling guilty

when I see my father's eyes squinching
back tears as I drive away.

Hello and goodbye. That's it.
And I'm back

in my bedroom that faces south into the side
of these trees, with the radio on

warning Traveler's Advisory. Wrecking-ball hailstones.
King Kong tornado. Megaton Blizzard.

A forecast so unimaginably bad, only a fool
would drive home in this kind of weather.

Kathryn Stripling Byer
Copyright © 2002 The Cortland Review

Sunday, October 30, 2005


The following poem is one I wrote this morning after reading the poem by the same title in Ted Kooser's current column (the one mentioned yesterday - see LINKS). It is often so hard to be honest about our mothers, and often, I think, to be honest about our children. So much of family life involves coming to terms with our own imperfections and those of the ones we love best.

In my mother’s house
-after Gloria g. Murray

there’s the smell of too many cats,
wallpaper in the bathroom half-peeled,
ivy on the sill not quite dead, but almost.
There are too many pictures on the wall
and not enough ones of my brother,
or so he says. There are stacks
of bills and letters on the kitchen table,
patterns and fabric on the dining room one,
but when we come together to share a meal
they are both cleared and decked with seasonal cloths,
forks and spoons in their places, salt and pepper
shakers in easy reach. Everyone asks,
what happened to your stacks? My mother
laughs but doesn’t answer. In my mother’s house
there are things we want to say but don’t,
there are things we hear but wish we hadn’t.
But when we’re all together in my mother’s house
we smile and shutters click, later glue photos
down in albums, crop out the parts we don’t like.

-Irene Latham

Saturday, October 29, 2005


I learned many things from my mother, but nothing so practical as sewing. I learned how to be low maintenance and not care what people think, sometimes. I learned to transmit guilt and disapproval telepathically, which I’m not proud of, and which reminds me of the poem Ted Kooser is featuring in the current American Life in Poetry column (see LINKS). I also learned many nonsensical sayings like, “If it was a bear it would bite you,” “A bird is going to come and lay an egg on your lip,” and, my favorite, “I’m just resting my eyes.” What other mother sayings did we grow up on?

What I Learned from my Mother by Being One:

to my daughter

How hard it is to follow through after “no” is said,
and how easy it is to buy something for you, instead of me,
why she stayed up until I got home late at night,
and why zipper robes and scuffy slippers became a morning uniform.

That it is easy to forget the most obvious,
like birthdays, promises, where you put something down,
but hard to forget what was said and just how,
and how the weight of you being rocked will haunt me,
with blinds rippling with the up down
of dark and light, in time, with the creaking rocker.

Why the art of distancing from what you most love,
once in a while, is necessary to maintain sanity.
I understand now that you can really be “resting your eyes”
and not quite sleeping, and how the square I create
on the couch with my legs, can be filled perfectly,
by you just wanting to be near.

I learned from her how to trace your features with fingertips,
around closed eyes, smoothing brow, down nose,
feeling bone under soft cheeks, and threading hair.
This is how to find your way back again.

Friday, October 28, 2005


As we tackle motherhood ourselves, we realize the multitude of things we've learned from our own mothers, whether through direct teaching or by osmosis. What power we have as mothers! And we don't stop learning from them, ever, even when they are far away from us or in the grave. This is one of several poems I've written about things I've learned from my mother.


Her first machine was a Singer
she had to stand to work,
her five-year-old legs not long
enough to reach the pedal. Later
a Singer Slant-o-matic, ballpoint
needle all the rage, her grandmother
watching from the corner,
as you sew, so shall you rip.

Fingers hummed during dark hours
after milking cows and homework,
machine coughed out 4-H blue ribbons
while little girl’s legs grew long and lean.
Not many years later she married
my father in a gown she’d sewn herself,
the prettiest part of the day she tells me
now, six years into her third marriage
as we work together sewing beads
on another gown for someone
else’s wedding. May they

be happy, my mother says,
her still-nimble fingers turning
a needle with dazzling speed
and precision, her words nothing
like the fragile lace we’re working,
white satin with a red edge
of her own creation. I know
this is not how she expected
her life to be. She checks over
my handiwork, notices a flaw
in the seam, and next thing
I know, she’s handing me the ripper.

- Irene Latham

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I wrote this today, but it has been simmering for a while. Yes, unfortunately, it did really happen, I DID get lost in my own neighborhood. It was one of those rare moments when I rose to the heroic expectations that come with the job of being mother. Now she wants to go with walks with me all the time to have another "adventure."

Getting Lost in My Own Neighborhood
J.B. Rowell

We set out on a mother-daughter walk.
Feeling like I’m finally doing right by her
at the end of my hand with full smile
shining up at me, I smile back.
This is all she needs, I think, time with her mom,
not really me, but with the woman who
is infallible, towering, even beautiful,
especially when dressed like a mother should:
heels, lipstick, sparkly earrings.

Now it’s just the two of us in jeans,
walking shoes, down the trail
in our still new neighborhood
to the lake with strategically-placed boulders.
We sit on the one with the dip,
a cradle for our conversation,
listening to each other, to the ebb and flow
of bug sounds, not-so-distant highway,
geese flying overhead, naming colors
as the sun sinks beyond the static
of the lake surface.

Suddenly darker than expected
sooner than expected,
heading back in a hurry
the conversation changes
to reassurances
about the woods at night.
No there are no bears here, no lions,
definitely not monsters,
not the kind you’re thinking of anyway,
besides, here come the streetlights.
We’ll turn right, I’m sure it’s a shortcut,
now left, left again,
I had no idea the neighborhood
went on and on like this.
We actually end up
outside of it walking down a busy road
toward the entrance I hope
is just ahead, six-year-old daughter
in my aching arms, heavy head
on my shoulder, asleep but talking,
currents of speeding cars
almost pulling us under.

I become the mother I need
to be for her, hold her tight, whisper
I know just where we are,
we’re having an adventure,
we’re almost home,
it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,
I convince myself.


Naked Duvet
J.B. Rowell

It almost looks purposeful,
the down comforter
haphazardly thrown on top.

Who has time to wash, dry,
and button on a coordinated cover,
or even make a bed?

I Stop Writing the Poem
Tess Gallagher

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


When I was pregnant, I happened upon a beautiful book entitled Welcome to the World compiled by Nikki Siegen-Smith. It is a unique anthology of poems and photographs pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth from cultures all over the world. The following poem is by Penelope Shuttle (England) and is one of my favorites in the book:

The Conceiving

you are in the ark of my blood
in the river of my bones
in the woodland of my muscles
in the ligaments of my hair
in the wit of my hands
in the smear of my shadow
in the armada of my brain
under the stars of my skull
in the arms of my womb
Now you are here
you worker in the gold of flesh

- Penelope Shuttle

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


American Life in Poetry: Column 027


In this lovely poem by Angela Shaw, who lives in Pennsylvania, we hear a voice of wise counsel: Let the young go, let them do as they will, and admire their grace and beauty as they pass from us into the future.

Children in a Field

They don’t wade in so much as they are taken.
Deep in the day, in the deep of the field,
every current in the grasses whispers hurry
hurry, every yellow spreads its perfume
like a rumor, impelling them further on.
It is the way of girls. It is the sway
of their dresses in the summer trance-
light, their bare calves already far-gone
in green. What songs will they follow?
Whatever the wood warbles, whatever storm
or harm the border promises, whatever
calm. Let them go. Let them go traceless
through the high grass and into the willow-
blur, traceless across the lean blue glint
of the river, to the long dark bodies
of the conifers, and over the welcoming
threshold of nightfall.

Reprinted from “Poetry,” September, 2004, Vol. 184, No. 5, by permission of the author. Poem copyright © 2004 by Angela Shaw. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. The column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

American Life in Poetry ©2005 The Poetry Foundation



Onesies, booties, blankies, pacies,
the just-like-breast nipples
for the bottles, the dense kilo-packaged
diapers, the coordinated
catalogue-ordered crib and
dresser/diaper changing station,
the gingham glider rocker
and matching ottoman
that glides too.

It all must be the best for baby
i.e. the most expensive,
even better, European,
the bouncy seat must vibrate, light up,
sing tinny lullabies,
and have a simulated ocean scene
with vibrant plastic fish
swimming in dyed glitter water.

The exer-saucer, 360 degrees
of engaging, developmental
activities within reach, must
eliminate the need for a parent
to actually get on the floor
and play with their child.

What we now call baby proofing
was once supervision,
or so my mother says,
what we now schedule and buy
to gain status of good mother
is our absence
from their childhood.

Monday, October 24, 2005

In Search of Free Time

This poem appeared in my first chapbook entitled Now Playing in which all of the poems titles are also movie titles. I think most mothers share the same (often insane!) worries and also crave the same thing: a little free time every now and again!

The Silence of the Lambs

It was only a minute, I swear
it couldn’t have been more than five
and I awaken to nothing but static on the television
and late afternoon sunlight
slanting through the open blinds.
My first thoughts upon waking:
where are they, where have they gone, are they okay?
Then the mind pulls up every graphic image
of every horrible crime ever committed –
blood-spattered walls, a young girl dead
on the carpet, blonde hair a net
for all her dreams and her mother’s dreams
that now will never come true;
a baby boy, cold and hard and blue,
being pulled from a dumpster,
umbilical cord still attached;
a toddler they found floating face-up in the Cahaba River,
skin pasty and bloated, no dental records yet
so no way to make a positive identification,
and I cannot find them fast enough.
I call and call and call, my voice cracking,
run up the stairs, mind racing at warp speed,
they’re nowhere, they’ve gone, someone’s stolen them.
Then reason settles in, and I try hard not to panic,
knowing they’re probably just outside or hiding,
playing a game or a trick, just doing what boys do, but
where are they, where have they gone, are they okay?
Out the front door, I take the steps in one leap,
run around the corner of the house,
and that’s when I see them –
their blonde heads bobbing together and apart,
together and apart, a huddle of three
little Indians cross-legged and chanting,
lost in a world where magic beans
will grow a beanstalk straight to the sky.
I want to shout, I want to say goddammit,
I was looking for you, don’t you know
I was worried, answer me when I call.
Instead, I head back for the front door, careful
not to make any noise, careful,
because I don’t want them to see me.
Once inside, I close the blinds and change the channel.
Resume my position on the couch.
Moments like these are hard to come by.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


This first poem appeared in the January 2005 issue of the Birmingham Arts Journal (see LINKS), and the second was written at the start of the Iraq War but still seems pertinent now. I haven't figured out a way to maintain tabs in poems when I paste them in, so poem format is off for now.

J.B. Rowell

tiny blue branching
on your egg shell head

tiny smell of sweet spoiled milk
tiny blister on the point of your lip
tiny shine on your tongue tasting air

tiny dimples
one when you smile
four on each hand
two on each elbow
one above each tiny buttock

tiny papery nails
gripped in tiny fists
two tiny nipples
speckled shells pressed into
the soft sand
of your tiny torso

tiny penis
hiding in the folds
rippling down your tiny legs

tiny kernel toes

tiny pupils circled blue-grey
showing the way
to the hugeness inside

J.B. Rowell

The thunder of bunker busters
reverberates him awake
to his own scream
the way babies do
only worse
tears squeezed hot
from shut eyelids
tongue clanging
in the wide bell of his mouth
sounding with the city
a cry not calling
for a full, warm belly
or powder-fresh skin
there are deeper
circles of survival at work
gears set in motion
by the fear and blood
he is weaned on.

The startle reflex
soft, dimpled hands
outstretched and trembling
does nothing
it hangs in the air
like a failed spell
cannot keep his body whole
as precision-guided bombs
go astray
and if he survives
when this baby becomes a man
can I really blame him
for hating my little man?
who sleeps on flannel sheets
with powder blue sheep
who sleeps with dry lashes
a sweet expression
and tiny, nursing lips
translating a simple dream
uninterrupted by the rumble
of a passing train.


Welcome to the debut of MOM AND APPLE PIE (MAAP), which aims to showcase poetry that strips away at the layers around the world’s true oldest profession, the one women step into and are blindsided by impossible expectations and bad PR going back to the first labor pains. MAAP is interested in serious, honest, and often humorous poetry and discussion.