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American Life in Poetry

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.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Mark Irwin, whose most recent book of poems is Tall If, New Issues Poetry & Prose, 2008. Poem reprinted from The Sun, July, 2010, by permission of Mark Irwin and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2013 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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