American Life in Poetry: Column 397

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

It’s a good thing to have a poem about voting in the week of the election, and here’s a fine one by Judith Harris, who lives in Washington, D.C.

My Mother Goes to Vote

We walked five blocks
to the elementary school,
my mother’s high heels
crunching through playground gravel.
We entered through a side door.

Down the long corridor,
decorated with Halloween masks,
health department safety posters—
we followed the arrows
to the third grade classroom.

My mother stepped alone
into the booth, pulling the curtain behind her.
I could see only the backs of her
calves in crinkled nylons.

A partial vanishing, then reappearing
pocketbook crooked on her elbow,
our mayor’s button pinned to her lapel.
Even then I could see—to choose
is to follow what has already
been decided.

We marched back out
finding a new way back down streets
named for flowers
and accomplished men.
I said their names out loud, as we found

our way home, to the cramped house,
the devoted porch light left on,
the customary meatloaf.
I remember, in the classroom converted
into a voting place—
there were two mothers, conversing,
squeezed into the children’s desk chairs.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Judith Harris, whose most recent book of poems, Night Garden, is forthcoming from Tiger Bark Press, spring 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Judith Harris and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 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.