Thirty Years Later I Meet Your Seventeen-Year-Old Daughter the Poet

By Sandra M. Gilbert b. 1936

in memory of R.I.S.

1.

Would I know her anywhere, this child
who never knew you except in photographs?

She has your high clear polished forehead, but   
“No, my sister has his dimple, the cleft
in his chin ...”
                         Tight curly hair (like yours)
drawn back, and your face, thinned, refined,   
to a girl’s—you in a girl’s body, you
(thick, muscular, tempestuous)
newly slight, polite: you in a neat   
print skirt, loose black blouse!

Now a seventeen-year-old classicist—
“Latin’s my favorite”—you translate
Catullus, write tidy sonnets, envy the sister   
who remembers the dead father,
but (as you always did) adore your mother   
and walk with your head thrown slightly back   
as if the weight of thought were hard to bear.

I rock in my teacherly chair.
She’s shy, constrained.
“I don’t want to read my father’s poems,   
they’re all in tatters in the closet,
they scare me.”
                        I tell her
I’m kind of a long-lost aunt, tell her
about the photo of you as (you said) “the young Shelley”—
about your huntsman’s bow, opera, baseball,
endless games of chess in the dorm parlor with you
boasting your prowess.

                                  And she’s embarrassed,
you’re embarrassed, living in her blood,
to think you ever acted like that!


2.

When you were a man, a thirty-seven-year old,   
long after our last fight, last kiss,   
you OD’d on morphine
and disappeared into the blanks   
that always framed your mind.

But she’s sent two poems and a thank-you note,   
and her handwriting—yours—hasn’t changed.   
“It meant a lot to me to talk about my dad,”
you scribbled with your new small fingers.

I want to believe this, want to believe   
you’re really starting out again!

Do me a favor:
                      forget
Catullus, Horace, love and hate
and think, instead, of the epic
cell, the place where the chromosomes   
are made and made for a moment perfect.

Translate those lines from Virgil
some of us once liked to chant,
the ones about beginning, about those who first   
left Troy to seek the Italian shore.

Sandra Gilbert, “Thirty Years Later I Meet Your Seventeen-Year Old Daughter the Poet” from Kissing the Bread: New and Selected Poems, 1969-1999. Copyright © 2000 by Sandra Gilbert. Reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton and 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: Kissing the Bread: New and Selected Poems, 1969-1999 (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002)

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Poet Sandra M. Gilbert b. 1936

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

Subjects Friends & Enemies, Death, Poetry & Poets, Living, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

 Sandra M. Gilbert

Biography

Though widely acclaimed as a leading feminist literary critic, Sandra M. Gilbert is also a renowned poet who has published numerous collections of poetry, including the Patterson Prize winning Ghost Volcano (1997), and Kissing the Bread: New and Selected Poems 1969–1999 (2000), which won an American Book Award. Recent collections include Belongings (2006) and Aftermath: Poems (2011). Gilbert’s poetry is known for its erudition, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Friends & Enemies, Death, Poetry & Poets, Living, Relationships, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., Western

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