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About this poet

On November 18, 1919, Madeline DeFrees was born in Ontario, Oregon and moved to Hillsboro in 1923. After graduation from St. Mary's Academy in Portland, she entered the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, where she was known for many years as Sister Mary Gilbert.

After receiving a BA degree from Marylhurst College and an MA from the University of Oregon, she taught at Holy Names College in Spokane from 1950 to 1967. While still a nun, she taught at the University of Montana, in Missoula, from 1967 to 1979. In late 1973 she was dispensed from her religious vows. She taught at the University of Massachusetts from 1979 to 1985, after which she retired to Seattle.

DeFrees is the author of several full-length poetry collections, including Spectral Waves (Copper Canyon Press, 2006); and Blue Dusk (Copper Canyon, 2001), winner of the 2002 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and a Washington Book Award, and two chapbooks, as well as two non-fiction books about convent life. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry and a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts.

The Family Group

Madeline DeFrees, 1919

That Sunday at the zoo I understood the child I
never had would look like this: stiff-fingered
spastic hands, a steady drool, and eyes in cages
with a danger sign. I felt like stone myself
the ancient line curved inward in a sunblind
stare. My eyes were flat. Flat eyes for tanned
young couples with their picture-story kids. Heads

turned our way but you’d learned not to care. You
stood tall as Greek columns, weather-streaked
face bent toward the boy. I wanted to take his hand,
hallucinate a husband. He whimpered at my touch.
You watched me move away and grabbed my other
hand as much in love as pity for our land-locked
town. I heard the visionary rumor of the sea. What

holds the three of us together in my mind is something
no one planned. The chiseled look of mutes.
A window shut to keep out pain. Wooden blank of doors.
That stance the mallet might surprise
if it could strike the words we hoard for fears
galloping at night over moors through convoluted bone.
The strange uncertain rumor of the sea.

Used with permission by Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org

Used with permission by Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org

Madeline DeFrees

Madeline DeFrees

Poet Madeline DeFrees was the recipient of the 2002 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and the Washington Book Award for her collection Blue Dusk