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.