"My Young Mother"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Jan. 15 2008 7:35 AM

"My Young Mother"

Elvera Ryan (1911-2006)

Listen to Michael Ryan read this poem.


What she couldn't give me
she gave me those long nights
she sat up with me feverish
and sweating in my sleep
when I had no idea whatsoever
what she had to do to suffer
the pain her body dealt her
to assuage the pain in mine.

That was a noble privacy—
her mothering as a practice of patience—
how deeply it must have stretched her
to watch me all night with her nerves
crying for rest while my fever
spiked under the washcloths
she passed between my forehead
and her dishpan filled with ice.

That was a noble privacy,
but even then there was so much
unsayable between us,
and why this was now looks so
ludicrous in its old costume of shame
that I wish not that she had just
said it but that I hadn't been
so furious she couldn't.

Michael Ryan is the director of the MFA program in poetry at the University of California Irvine. His new book of poems is This Morning

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