American Life in Poetry: Column 205


Memories have a way of attaching themselves to objects, to details, to physical tasks, and here, George Bilgere, an Ohio poet, happens upon mixed feelings about his mother while slicing a head of cabbage.

Corned Beef and Cabbage

I can see her in the kitchen,   
Cooking up, for the hundredth time,   
A little something from her   
Limited Midwestern repertoire.   
Cigarette going in the ashtray,   
The red wine pulsing in its glass,   
A warning light meaning   
Everything was simmering   
Just below the steel lid   
Of her smile, as she boiled   
The beef into submission,   
Chopped her way   
Through the vegetable kingdom   
With the broken-handled knife   
I use tonight, feeling her   
Anger rising from the dark   
Chambers of the head   
Of cabbage I slice through,   
Missing her, wanting   
To chew things over   
With my mother again.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2002 by George Bilgere, whose most recent book of poetry is “Haywire,” Utah State University Press, 2006. Poem reprinted from “The Good Kiss,” published by The University of Akron Press, 2002, by permission of the author and publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 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.