Monday, November 14, 2011

Tuesday Poem: What the Living Do

by Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

--Marie Howe


  1. Such a sad poem - but with a lovely sense of defiance against adversity. :)

  2. Oh! This is so Alice Munro - I love it, who is this poet? Love love love it.

  3. OKay I've googled her and I'm smitten - here's an article I enjoyed below - it says the poem you've posted, T, is about living after the death of her brother

  4. I owned a copy of this collection and reading this poem has sent me ferreting around - but can I find it? No. Bugger. Clearly need to keep better track of my poetry books.

  5. "and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

    for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
    I am living."

    something to grab hold of and cling on tight to.
    Touched my heart.

  6. "I am living. I remember you."
    These lines will stick with me all day.

  7. A few weeks ago a friend called me while I was cooking dinner and told me to turn on Fresh Air on NPR, that there was a marvelous poet being interviewed. I got it just at the end and didn't hear a thing, but the next day this same friend emailed me this poem. I brought it to work, read it aloud, and the title has become our workday mantra.

    Even without knowing the back story to the poem, it does what all good poetry does: speaks to the larger subject at hand.

    Forgiving ourselves for our humanness, for our surviving despite it all -- is what speaks to me here.

    We are alive.
    We are flawed.
    We persist.

  8. I had a living moment just now, in the parking lot of Trader Joe's. What a perfect poem to read after unloading those groceries, sitting here at my desk with coffee. Thank you.

  9. ah, "forgiving ourselves for our humanness." If only, if only.

  10. A moving, musical, tightly-controlled, unforgetable poem. Many thanks.

  11. Unforgettable. Moving. Persistent. Yes.

    One for notebook, mirror, studio wall.

    Thanks, T x