Just Life

Tuesdays are for Poetry.

When Honoré shared a poem by Ted Kooser a few weeks back, I put a few of his collections on hold at the library. One of them finally came in and I picked it up this morning. Flipping through the pages, this poem caught my eye … and then grabbed hold of the rest of me. The holiday season seems to be one where we think a lot about the past. in both good and not-so-good ways. When I first read the poem, an image of me, my brother and my sister, lined up on the hearth of our home in Casper, Wyoming (the first house we lived in that had a fireplace), sitting straight and obviously posing for the 1971 Christmas card photo popped into my head. But I think these photos, taken the following year, are better. There’s still a posed one of the three of us

but there are also a handful of candid shots, obviously from Christmas morning.

That Christmas, I’d just turned ten, Steve was seven and Karen was five. I don’t recall anything specific about that year (not even the table top pool game!), but the dynamic among the three of us is hard to miss.

The Past

What we remember of it
is what we began to memorize
as children, rehearsing
the same scenes again and again
until we got them perfect,
the father, the mother, the sister
entering from left and right,
obeying the arrows and Xs
chalked onto the stage,
saying their lines precisely
as we would have them said
until these dramas were fixed
in tableaux, enameled mannequins
nodding in storefronts,
raising their hands to comfort
or strike, while our shapes
in the shimmering glass
appear to be standing among them.
And if someone should call
one of our scenes into question,
we rush to its defense,
afraid that the window will crack
and collapse with a crash
and we will have nowhere to turn
to see ourselves reflected
in what we have so carefully
created and directed.

Ted Kooser (from Splitting an Order)

The poem doesn’t speak directly to photos … I’m wondering if they call our scenes into question … or do they become the scenes?


  • Kat

    What a lovely poem… thought provoking! Perfection and Holiday’s seem to be the largest oxymoron ever. But, I love these tender photos of your and your siblings! What fun!

  • Honore´

    I find that TK has a way with words that evoke deep, common human feelings and experiences with the “ordinary,” which really isn’t very ordinary when we stop and are mindful of the moment…for me, his poems bring up a groundswell of familiarity – even if not – and appreciation, gratitude. I guess I’m trying to say: who knows what caused one’s brain to make the/that connection?
    Thoroughly enjoyed your trip back to your childhood during this season. Makes me smile. Thanks ever so much for sharing.

  • Vera

    I enjoy Ted Kooser’s poems – thanks for sharing (that one is new to me). And, I love seeing the pictures of you and your siblings when you were young (one of my brothers may have had the same bathrobe as your brother – lol).

  • Bonny

    This poem reminds me of our roles in our families. I was “the smart one” and my sister was “the popular one”. My parents even said this – out loud – to us. I’m not sure why; the characterizations were true, but we both had so many other facets to our personalities. We’ve talked about whether this harmed or helped us and whether we worked to fulfill these one-dimensional characterizations or worked against them. We still don’t know!

    I love your family photos!

  • Margene

    This poem so perfectly describes our family dynamic. We know by heart what the pictures in our family album portray and we know the “stories” almost verbatim. I don’t remember the truth of what is in photo and I believe my life is made up of memories as told to me by my parents or sisters who say they remember every detail. Ha, I say.

  • Patty

    My first visit to Casper was 1971. I just looked at the home on Zillow and it looks the same! And the poem…so interesting. I have solid memories of going to see the Liberty Bell on as Sunday morning while visiting in PA and my Mom would tell you it never happened. Who knows!

  • Lydia

    Love the photo, poem and the memories this evokes. Steve still likes to stand straight and tall when he poses for photos.