The Routine Things Around the House

Stephen Dunn

 

When Mother died
I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable

yet I’ve since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who’ve been loved by their mothers.

I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she’d live,
how many lifetimes there are

in the sweet revisions of memory.
It’s hard to know exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,

but I remembered when I was twelve,
1951, before the world
unbuttoned its blouse.

I had asked my mother (I was trembling)
if I could see her breasts
and she took me into her room

without embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.

Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who’ve never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancer,

feel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breasts

when girls my age were developing
their separate countries,
what luck

she didn’t doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,

perhaps to suck them,
what would she have done?
Mother, dead woman

who I think permits me
to love women easily,
this poem

is dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficient

and to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.

 
From Manthology: Poems on the Male Experience edited by Craig Crist-Evans, Kate Fetherston and Roger Weingarten. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

Charlotte Brontë in Leeds Point by Stephen Dunn
From her window marshland stretched for miles.
Here and Now by Stephen Dunn
There are words
Mrs. Cavendish and the Dancer by Stephen Dunn
Mrs. Cavendish desired the man in the fedora
The Kiss by Stephen Dunn
How many years I must have yearned
What Goes On by Stephen Dunn
After the affair and the moving out


Further Reading

Related Poems
Complaint
by William Logan
Thanks and Gratitude
A List of Praises
by Anne Porter
A Toast
by Ilya Kaminsky
Around Us
by Marvin Bell
Dusting
by Marilyn Nelson
For the Fallen
by Laurence Binyon
For the Twentieth Century
by Frank Bidart
Lift Every Voice and Sing
by James Weldon Johnson
Mass for the Day of St. Thomas Didymus [excerpt]
by Denise Levertov
Rabbi Ben Ezra
by Robert Browning
Slow Waltz Through Inflatable Landscape
by Christian Hawkey
Starfish
by Eleanor Lerman
Thank You For Saying Thank You
by Charles Bernstein
Thanks
by W. S. Merwin
Thanksgiving Letter from Harry
by Carl Dennis
The Culture of Glass
by Thylias Moss
The Teacher
by Hilarie Jones
The Thanksgivings
by Harriet Maxwell Converse
The Triumph of Time
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Two Countries
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Visiting Pai-an Pavilion
by Hsieh Ling-yun
What Was Told, That
by Jalalu'l-din Rumi
Poems About Mothers
Disciplines [If there is prayer, there is a mother kneeling]
by Dawn Lundy Martin
Kaddish, Part I
by Allen Ginsberg
a woman peeling apples, with a small child
by Pattie McCarthy
Beasts
by Carmen Giménez Smith
Chorus
by Catherine Barnett
Exile
by Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Getting Close
by Victoria Redel
Jugglers
by Francisco Aragón
Lucky
by Tony Hoagland
Mama, Come Back
by Nellie Wong
Measurement Fable
by Rusty Morrison
Metamorphosis
by James Richardson
Mother
by Lola Ridge
Mother
by Herman de Coninck
Mother Ann Tells Lucy What Gave Her Joy
by Arra Lynn Ross
Mother o' Mine
by Rudyard Kipling
Mother's Day
by David Young
My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer
by Mark Strand
My Mother Was No White Dove
by Reginald Shepherd
My Mother Would Be a Falconress
by Robert Duncan
My Mother's Funeral
by Ira Sadoff
Parents
by William Meredith
Picking Up
by Evelyn Duncan
Poems about Motherhood
Postcards
by E. Ethelbert Miller
Postpartum
by Hiromi Itō
Rock Me to Sleep
by Elizabeth Akers Allen
She Leaves Me Again, Six Months Later
by Collier Nogues
The Player Queen
by W. B. Yeats
The Visit
by Jason Shinder
They Call This
by C. K. Williams
To My Mother
by Edgar Allan Poe
To My Mother
by Christina Rossetti
To My Mother
by Robert Louis Stevenson
To My Mother Waiting on 10/01/54
by Teresa Carson
Untitled [A house just like his mother's]
by Gregory Orr
Wedding Cake
by Naomi Shihab Nye
With Child
by Genevieve Taggard
[Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome]
by Christina Rossetti