The Routine Things Around The House

by Stephen Dunn

When Mother died

I thought: now I'll have a death poem.

That was unforgivable.



Yet I've since forgiven myself

as sons are able to do

who've been loved by their mothers.



I stared into the coffin

knowing how long she'd live,

how many lifetimes there are



in the sweet revisions of memory.

It's hard to know exactly

how we ease ourselves back from sadness,



but I remembered when I was twelve,

1951, before the world

unbuttoned its blouse.



I had asked my mother (I was trembling)

If I could see her breasts

and she took me into her room



without embarrassment or coyness

and I stared at them,

afraid to ask for more.



Now, years later, someone tells me

Cancers who've never had mother love

are doomed and I, a Cancer



feel blessed again. What luck

to have had a mother

who showed me her breasts



when girls my age were developing

their separate countries,

what luck



she didn't doom me

with too much or too little.

Had I asked to touch,



Perhaps to suck them,

What would she have done?

Mother, dead woman



Who I think permits me

to love women easily

this poem



is dedicated to where

we stopped, to the incompleteness

that was sufficient



and to how you buttoned up,

began doing the routine things

around the house.