Poem : What the Living Do

Marie Howe is another one of those poets whose words and tone cling to me for days after reading her work. I first discovered her when I found this poem awhile back, but then I heard her interview with Terry Gross last October, driving home to Michigan to visit my mother. It felt divine, purposeful, that I happened to be in the car and listening to my radio right then, because it was exactly what I needed to hear. Reading poetry is one thing, but hearing the author read the poem as it was meant to be read, hearing them talk about where the poem came from, takes you so much deeper into the moment that they're describing. Read this poem, but if you're really wanting to be moved, listen to her interview on Fresh Air

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.


Laura said...

Wow, what a powerful last line! That's so true about listening to a poem versus reading it. Sometimes I feel like over the years we have been taught to read too quickly. What with Facebook statuses, Twitter updates, bulleted lists (and with the exception of novels, though sometimes I think they fall victim to this, too) we think that everything we read will be delivered to us without much "work" on our part. Listening makes us slow down and really listen to the words and how they make us feel, rather than just skimming over them. Thanks for another inspiring post!

Post a Comment

Share your thoughts: