American Life in Poetry: Column 368


My mother kept a handwritten record of every cent she spent from the day she and my father were married until the day she died. So it’s no wonder I especially like this poem by Jared Harel, who teaches creative writing at Centenary College in Hackettstown, New Jersey.


My grandmother never trusted calculators.

She would crunch numbers in a spiral notebook

at the kitchen table, watching her news.

Work harder and I’d have more to count,

she’d snap at my father. And so my father worked

harder, fixed more mufflers, gave her receipts


but the numbers seldom changed.

There were silky things my mother wanted,

glorious dinners we could not afford.


Grandma would lecture her: no more garbage,

and so our house was clean. The attic spotless.

In fact, it wasn’t until after she died


that my parents found out how much she had saved us.

What hidden riches had been kept in those notebooks,

invested in bonds, solid blue digits

etched on each page. She left them
in the kitchen by her black and white television
we tossed a week later, though it seemed to work fine.

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 ©2010 by Jared Harel, whose chapbook, The Body Double, is forthcoming from Brooklyn Arts Press. Reprinted from Cold Mountain Review, Volume 39, no. 1, Fall 2010, by permission of Jared Harel and the 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.