How It Is

By Maxine W. Kumin 1925–2014
Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.   
The dog at the center of my life recognizes   
you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.   
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.

I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste   
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,   
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,   
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish   
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space   
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.

Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.   
I will be years gathering up our words,   
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.

Maxine Kumin, “How It Is” from Selected Poems 1960-1990. Copyright © 1997 by Maxine Kumin. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1976)

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Poet Maxine W. Kumin 1925–2014

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Death, Friends & Enemies, Living, Relationships

Occasions Funerals

Poetic Terms Elegy

 Maxine W. Kumin

Biography

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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Death, Friends & Enemies, Living, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Elegy

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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