By Maxine W. Kumin 1925–2014
My father paces the upstairs hall   
a large confined animal
neither wild nor yet domesticated.
About him hangs the smell of righteous wrath.   
My mother is meekly seated
at the escritoire. Rosy from my bath   
age eight-nine-ten by now I understand   
his right to roar, hers to defy
the bill from Wanamaker’s in his hand   
the bill from Strawbridge’s held high   
the bill from Bonwit Teller
and the all plum-colored Blum Store.

His anger smells like dinner parties   
like trays of frothy daiquiris.
Against the pre-World-War-Two prime   
standing ribs his carving knife
flashes a little drunkenly. He charms   
all the other Bonwit-bedecked wives   
but something overripe malingers.
I wear his wide cigar bands on my fingers.

Oh God it is so noisy!
Under my bed a secret stair
a gold and purple escalator
takes me nightly down under the sea.
Such dancings, such carryings on   
with the prince of this-or-that
with the duke of ne’er-do-well
I the plain one, a size too large to tell   
grow tremulous at stickpin and cravat   
I in toe shoes and tutu suddenly   
see shopping is an art form
a kind of costume ball.

Papá, would we so humbly come   
to the scene in the upstairs hall
on the first of every month, except
you chose the mice for footmen, clapped   
to call up the coach and four?
You sent to Paris for the ermine muff   
that says I’m rich. To think twelve poor   
little things had their heads chopped off   
to keep my hands unseemly warm!   
When you went fishing down the well   
for fox furs, hats with peacock plumes   
velvet evening capes, what else befell?

You paid the bills, Papá. You cast the spell.

Maxine Kumin, “Spree” from The Long Approach (New York: Viking Press, 1985). Copyright © 1985 by Maxine Kumin. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: The Long Approach (Viking Press, 1985)

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Poet Maxine W. Kumin 1925–2014

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Money & Economics, Youth, Living, Relationships, Social Commentaries

 Maxine W. Kumin


An enduring presence in American poetry, Maxine Kumin’s career spanned over half a century. She was the recipient of prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award. She was the poetry consultant for the Library of Congress in 1981-1982, and taught at many of the country’s most prestigious universities, including MIT, Princeton, and . . .

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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Money & Economics, Youth, Living, Relationships, Social Commentaries

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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