The Letter From Home

May 25, 2011

My grandfather, when in his nineties, wrote me a letter in which he listed everything he and my uncle had eaten in the past week. That was the news. I love this poem by Nancyrose Houston of Seattle for the way it plays with the character of those letters from home that many of us have received. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

The Letter From Home
The dogs barked, the dogs scratched, the dogs got wet, the
dogs shook, the dogs circled, the dogs slept, the dogs ate,
the dogs barked; the rain fell down, the leaves fell down, the
eggs fell down and cracked on the floor; the dust settled,
the wood floors were scratched, the cabinets sat without
doors, the trim without paint, the stuff piled up; I loaded the
dishwasher, I unloaded the dishwasher, I raked the leaves,
I did the laundry, I took out the garbage, I took out the
recycling, I took out the yard waste. There was a bed, it was
soft, there was a blanket, it was warm, there were dreams,
they were good. The corn grew, the eggplant grew, the
tomatoes grew, the lettuce grew, the strawberries grew, the
blackberries grew; the tea kettle screamed, the computer
keys clicked, the radio roared, the TV spoke. “Will they ever
come home?” “Can’t I take a break?” “How do others keep
their house clean?” “Will I remember this day in fifty years?”
The sweet tea slipped down my throat, the brownies melted
in my mouth. My mother cooked, the apple tree bloomed, the
lilac bloomed, the mimosa bloomed, I bloomed.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Seattle Arts & Lectures. Reprinted from Wake Up In Brightness: Poetry & Prose by Students 2008-2009, Writers in the Schools, 2009, by permission of Seattle Arts & Lectures. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

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  1. I like this poem because it calls up for me images of the chaos of home, and how from out of that chaos, beautiful lives can be born. Hope you like it, too!

  2. In our case, it would the dogs barked, the dogs got wet, the cats scratched....

    This is just about a perfect summary of life!

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. ...loved this post and the poem. When I was young, I would exchange letters with my Aunt Pat. Letters about nothing...letters about life. I miss that!

  4. Glad you all liked the poem--doesn't it so clearly bring to mind daily life?

  5. Live really is made of these little things. "The dog wanted out at midnight" is my little addition to this poem. Last night my big dog Sarah looked at me but I was too tired and told her to go back to sleep. She did! That was a first.

  6. Last week, our dog wanted out at 3:30... and she got her way. (Better than cleaning up an accident first thing in the morning!) I think.