American Life in Poetry: Column 663

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

At a friend's wedding, as she stood in her reception line, an older woman leaned in and whispered, "Always rinse your dishrag in cold water so it won't stink." Advice! Christine Stewart-Nuñez lives and teaches in South Dakota, and the following poem capturing her grandmother's witty advice is from her book Untrussed, from the University of New Mexico Press.

For Elizabeth, Who Loved to Square Dance

I wore Grandma Liz's pearls
for play, a plastic strand long
enough to pool on the carpet
over my stubbed toes. When I pull
them over my head now, I smell
phantoms: cigarettes, Esteé
Lauder. I don't smoke or spritz
on perfume. I don't layer polyester
or perm my hair. I've slipped off
my wedding ring as she did, signed
divorce. What advice would she offer
for life between husbands? Wear red
lipstick and always leave it behind.
 


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 Christine Stewart-Nuñez, “For Elizabeth, Who Loved to Square Dance,” from Untrussed, (University of New Mexico Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Christine Stewart-Nuñez and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2017 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.