American Life in Poetry: Column 659


Do we ever really know our parents, know what they're thinking, know why they do what they do? Here's a poem touching upon those mysteries. It first appeared in Field. Jon Loomis is a poet from Wisconsin, and his most recent book is The Mansion of Happiness, from Oberlin College Press.

At the Lake House

Wind and the sound of wind—
across the bay a chainsaw revs
and stalls. I've come here to write,
but instead I've been thinking
about my father, who, in his last year,
after his surgery, told my mother
he wasn't sorry—that he'd cried
when the other woman left him,
that his time with her
had made him happier than anything
he'd ever done. And my mother,
who'd cooked and cleaned for him
all those years, cared for him
after his heart attack, could not
understand why he liked the other
woman more than her,
but he did. And she told me
that after he died she never went
to visit his grave—not once.
You think you know them,
these creatures robed
in your parents' skins. Well,
you don't. Any more than you know
what the pines want from the wind,
if the lake's content with this pale
smear of sunset, if the loon calls
for its mate, or for another.

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 ©2016 by Jon Loomis, “At the Lake House,” from Field, (No. 95, Fall 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Jon Loomis 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.