American Life in Poetry: Column 657

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I was deeply moved by this week's poem, which shows us the courage of a person struggling with a disability, one that threatens the way in which she wishes to present herself. It illustrates the fierce dignity that many of us have observed in elderly people. Wesley McNair served five years as poet laureate of Maine, and his most recent book is The Unfastening, published by David R. Godine.

My Mother's Penmanship Lessons

In her last notes, when her hand began
to tremble, my mother tried to teach it
 
the penmanship she was known for,
how to make the slanted stems
 
of the p's and d's, the descending
roundness of the capital m's, the long
 
loops of the f's crossed at the center,
sending it back again and again
 
until each message was the same:
a record of her insistence that the hand
 
return her to the way she was before,
and of all the ways the hand had disobeyed.
 


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 ©2016 by Wesley McNair, “My Mother's Penmanship Lessons,” from The Unfastening, (David R. Godine, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Wesley McNair 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.