In Front of Grandma's House

June 11, 2014

Me (and Pedro), in front of Grandma's house

There are many fine poems in which the poet looks deeply into a photograph and tries to touch the lives caught there. Here’s one by Tami Haaland, who lives in Montana. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Little Girl

She’s with Grandma in front
of Grandma’s house, backed
by a willow tree, gladiola and roses.

Who did she ever want
to please? But Grandma
seems half-pleased and annoyed.

No doubt Mother frowns
behind the lens, wants
to straighten this sassy face.

Maybe laughs, too.
Little girl with her mouth wide,
tongue out, yelling

at the camera. See her little
white purse full of treasure,
her white sandals?

She has things to do,
you can tell. Places to explore
beyond the frame,

and these women picking flowers
and taking pictures.
Why won’t they let her go?

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. “Little Girl” from When We Wake in the Night, by Tami Haaland, ©2012 WordTech Editions, Cincinnati, Ohio. Poem reprinted by permission of Tami Haaland and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2012 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.

Angela Shaw

Let Them Go

July 17, 2013

Photo courtesy Kent Murray
In this lovely poem by Angela Shaw, who lives in Pennsylvania, we hear a voice of wise counsel: Let the young go, let them do as they will, and admire their grace and beauty as they pass from us into the future. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Children in a Field

They don’t wade in so much as they are taken.
Deep in the day, in the deep of the field,
every current in the grasses whispers hurry
hurry, every yellow spreads its perfume
like a rumor, impelling them further on.
It is the way of girls. It is the sway
of their dresses in the summer trance-
light, their bare calves already far-gone
in green. What songs will they follow?
Whatever the wood warbles, whatever storm
or harm the border promises, whatever
calm. Let them go. Let them go traceless
through the high grass and into the willow-
blur, traceless across the lean blue glint
of the river, to the long dark bodies
of the conifers, and over the welcoming
threshold of nightfall.

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. Reprinted from Poetry,; September, 2004, Vol. 184, No. 5, by permission of the author. Poem copyright © 2004 by Angela Shaw. Introduction copyright © 2013 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.


It's the Beginning

May 29, 2013

Photo courtesy Sara Haj-Hassan

In honor of my son’s high school graduation tomorrow, here are a few graduation/growing up-themed quotes:

“There is a good reason they call these ceremonies ‘commencement exercises.’ Graduation is not the end; it’s the beginning.”
—Orrin Hatch

“The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse.”
—Edward Koch

And my favorite:

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
—e.e. cummings


The Big One-Eight

August 31, 2012

My baby turns 18 today. I do not know how that is even possible.

Last night I spent some sweet hours looking through our family photos. All those trips to the park and the beach and the zoo, all those family get-togethers and vacations. (All those regrettable wardrobe choices as well as fluctuating weights and hair lengths…) How nice that only the good times live in our photos and I do not have visual reminders of the blown-out diapers, the sleepless nights, the battles over food and chores and homework (though, clearly, I remember them).

I didn’t find being a mother to be particularly easy or “natural.” The first year of our son Nick’s life was pretty hard on me. I went from working full time in our insurance agency with my husband to staying home full time with an infant who did not sleep well and wouldn’t take a bottle even of breast milk. My in-laws, who lived nearby, worked full time. My mom and stepmom in California also worked full time. We hadn’t been in Florida that long so I didn’t have a circle of friends to rely on for support, advice and commiseration. My closest friend had a three-month-old and lived more than an hour away. Nick was delivered by C-section, and just when I began to recover from that, I began having gall bladder attacks and had to have that organ removed when Nick was four months old. My husband, who was now running the agency without me, spent most of his time at the office and even when he was at home, he was emotionally drained. An organization called FEMALE (Formerly Employed Mothers at the Leading Edge), now known as Mothers & More, came to my rescue with chapter meetings (without kids) playgroups, outings with kids and mom’s night out activities. I met two of my closest friends through this group and we are still friends, all these years later (one of them is the Mary who took me to the winery a couple of weeks ago).

Despite that rough start, we eventually worked our way into being a family. And I have photographic proof that we’ve had a pretty good life. I’d like to share a few of the photos I found last night. The first was taken shortly after Nick was born:

Poor woman. Doesn't know what she's in for.
This is one of my all-time favorite photos. I was finally through that horrible, hard first year, and Nick and I had forged a close bond.

This photo captures one of my happiest memories. Nick had been given a child’s camera that took photos with 35mm film. One afternoon, we both took our cameras out on our nature trail to take pictures of what interested us. (Note the manly work boots and the walking stick.) I did have his photos developed, and I wonder if he has any of them still?

You’ve seen many photos of Scout on this blog. Here’s the first one I ever took of her. We always tell people that Scout chose Nick. My husband and I had chosen a puppy other than Scout from the litter, but when we came to take our chosen puppy home, this little black and white puppy would not stop following Nick around. He already liked her best from our first visit, so we changed our minds and took the black and white one home instead. Later, when we were going through photos of our first visit to see the puppies, we found this:

Most of the other puppies are doing their own thing, while Scout is licking Nick’s face.

The adage “The days are long but the years are short” most certainly applies to children. Nick’s gone from blocks and Legos, to Xbox and Facebook. He’s 6’1” and I couldn’t rock him in my arms if I wanted to. We’re looking at colleges and talking about professions instead of checking out preschools. But he’s still my baby, and always will be.

Even though he’s turning 18, Nick is still in high school, so I have a little more time to adjust to his newfound “manhood.” I can’t express in words how much, how fiercely I love him and how proud I am of him as he grows up and begins to make his way in the world. I can’t think of a more exciting, scary, rewarding everyday adventure than being his mom.

Happy birthday, Nick!