American Life in Poetry: In My Mother’s House

(U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser is writing a series of columns that highlights poetry and its importance in everyday life. From time to time we'll share the reprinted columns here, and provide you a chance to add your comments. This short, crisp piece uses a spare amount of words and carefully chosen double meanings to quickly and solidly get the point across -- just as the subject of the poem might have done. Although longer, more dramatic epic poems can definitely impress, a short well-constructed piece can be just as powerful; many of us probably have examples from your favorite poet or poem that illustrate that point. Feel free to share them here as well as your thoughts on this selection.)

American Life in Poetry: Column 031


All of us have known tyrants, perhaps at the office, on the playground or, as in this poem, within a family. Here Long Island poet Gloria g. Murray portrays an authoritarian mother and her domain. Perhaps you've felt the tension in a scene like this.

In My Mother's House

every wall
stood at attention
even the air knew
when to hold its breath
the polished floors
looked up
defying heel marks
the plastic slipcovers
crinkled in discomfort

in my mother's house
the window shades
against the glare
of the world
the laughter
crawled like roaches
back into the cracks

even the humans sat--
cardboard cut-outs
around the formica
kitchen table
and with silver knives
sliced and swallowed
their words

Reprinted from "Poet Lore," Vol 99, No. 1/2 by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2005 by Gloria g. Murray, whose latest book of poetry is "Five A.M. Anxiety." This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.
This article is part of the series American Life In Poetry. The next post in the series is American Life in Poetry: December Notes. The previous post in the series is American Life in Poetry: The Ashes.
2 Responses to "American Life in Poetry: In My Mother’s House"

by deminizer on

Edna St. Vincent Millay......First Fig...My candle burns at both ends;It will not last the night;But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--It gives a lovely light

by Billectric on

Good one! I like this very much. It is simple, yet profound. Mortal, yet joyously alive.