American Life in Poetry: Column 737


How many of our mothers set aside what they wanted to do with their lives and chose instead to make good lives for us? This poem is from Faith Shearin's sixth book, Darwin's Daughter, published in 2017 by Stephen F. Austin State University Press.Shearon, of West Virginia, has become one of this column's favorite poets.

My Mother's Van

Even now it idles outside the houses
where we failed to get better at piano lessons,
visits the parking lot of the ballet school
where my sister and I stood awkwardly
at the back. My mother's van was orange
with a door we slid open to reveal
beheaded plastic dragons and bunches
of black, half-eaten bananas; it was where
her sketchbooks tarried among
abandoned coffee cups and
science projects. She meant to go places
in it: camp in its back seat
and cook on its stove while
painting the coast of Nova Scotia,
or capturing the cold beauty of the Blue Ridge
mountains at dawn. Instead, she waited
behind its wheel while we scraped violins,
made digestive sounds
with trumpets, danced badly at recitals
where grandmothers recorded us
with unsteady cameras. Sometimes, now,
I look out a window and believe I see it,
see her, waiting for me beside a curb,
under a tree, and I think I could open the door,
clear off a seat, look at the drawing in her lap,
which she began, but never seemed to finish.

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 ©2018 by Faith Shearin, "My Mother's Van," from Darwin's Daughter, (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Faith Shearin 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.