Mother's Closet

By Maxine Scates b. 1949 Maxine Scates
This is everything she ever closed a door
on, the broom closet of childhood
where no one could ever find a broom.
Here, layer upon layer, nothing breathes:
photo albums curl at the edges, books
she brought home from the library
where she worked, handled by thousands
of other hands before their final exile
where they’ve waited, paper and more paper
taking in the ocean air, about to sprout.

Mother’s sitting on the bed
with her tattered list of dispersals—who gets
what among the treasures she hopes
I’ll find, but I know I’m seeing
what she doesn't want me to see,
the daughter cleaning doing what the son
would never do. After an hour of excavation
the console TV emerges from beneath
forgotten sweaters and balled up nylons
saved for stuffing puppets, a long ago church project—
the TV arrived in 1966 same day I crushed
the fender of the car, upsetting
the careful plans she’d made for payment.

She wants to leave so much behind. Hours later
I’ve found nothing I want but the purple mache mask
I made in the fourth grade. I like its yellow eyes.
She looks at each magazine I remove, saving
every word about my brother, the coach. He’s sixty
and a long dead mouse has eaten the laces
of his baby shoes. I want order. I say
I’m old myself, I’ve started throwing things away.
I’m lying. I’ve kept everything she’s ever given me.

"Mother's Closet" from Black Loam by Maxine Scates. Published by Cherry Grove Collections in 2005.

Source: Black Loam (Cherry Grove Collections, 2005)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Maxine Scates b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Growing Old, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Living, Activities, Indoor Activities


Maxine Scates was born in Los Angeles in 1949.  Raised in a working class family, she worked her way through college, graduating from California State University, Northridge, where she took classes from and was encouraged by the poet Ann Stanford. After graduation she moved to Oregon where she earned an MFA from the University of Oregon.

Vern Rutsala, commenting on her most recent book, Undone (2011) writes, “While the language . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Growing Old, Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Living, Activities, Indoor Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.