Story Poems

The poem “Scare” in mother’s section of Sightlines shows how a team of people loved and cared for her as she bounced through more than her share of lives. Fortunately, I was there this May when “whatever happens” happened.


E: “Janet, come here.”
Yes, Pop? I’m here, Pop,
I yell from the laundry room.
He can hear a buzz, but doesn’t know where from.
It’s no good.

I drop the laundry. Hotfoot it into the dining room.
She won’t stir. Her blood pressure dropped 20 points in five minutes.

E: “We have a situation here.”
E: “Wake up, Ruth. Get ready for dinner.”
Hungry Mom?
E: “Ruth, you’re scaring me. Wake up!”
Another stroke?
Ischemic attack pressaging a massive stroke?

We call Virginia:
family friend,
all around good egg.

E: “There’s nothing anyone can do until she comes.”
Eat then, so you can go the hospital if you need to.
Pop pecks at his food.
I fold laundry.

Virginia arrives from the other hill.
Mother raises her head to nod to her guest.
Gives her beauty pageant wave.
Blood pressure, again. Pulse quantified.
Conference. Mother rouses.

Virginia, in the entryway:
“Not for your sake, but when
whatever happens, happens,
I hope you’ll be here.”
Yup. That’s where I aim to be.
For my sake, too.

I grew up in the Midwest surrounded by songs that told stories, jokes that told stories, and our legions of family stories. During the year I put the book together, most of my time was spent in the Midwest, surrounded by plainspoken people that come from farming stock. The form of the story-poem surrendered to and reflected the language of the people I wrote about.

Frankly, I wondered how this worked. Then, I received some responses which reassured me. A friend who is a fine musician said when he first read the poems, “I hear music here. Would you mind if I put them to music?”

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