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The Living and the Dead

April 15, 2012

(National Poetry Month! Ding, ding, ding.)

You just have to read this poem by Marie Howe. Few things are more beautiful.

What the Living Do

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.


Poem from What the Living Do by Marie Howe. Copyright 1998, Marie Howe.

Listen to her interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air .

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy April 16, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Wow Jana – good poem. This one really speaks to me and I bet you can understand why.


KQD April 17, 2012 at 2:00 pm

I don’t always understand poetry. This poem, however, is quite powerful. Thank you for sharing.


coeliquore April 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Simply beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!. Thanks, Jana.


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri April 21, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Powerful. Thanks for sharing Jana.


frogmama April 23, 2012 at 10:16 pm

I just heard her on NPR. Thank you for the reminder to get her book. I’m not a huge poetry fan (more CNF) but I thoroughly enjoyed her reading.


Rachel July 16, 2012 at 11:41 am

Wow! Oh man…have to think for a while about this …wonderful, wonderful poem


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