In Black

By Joyce Sutphen b. 1949 Joyce Sutphen
The image that haunts me is not beautiful.
I do not think it will open into a field
of wildflowers; I doubt that it will take
wing suddenly, startling us into admiration.

It is one of those brutish facts of life,
the awkward nakedness of the memory when
it takes off its clothes and crawls
between the top and bottom sheet. Or rather,

It is my mother’s memory that I carry,
pressed into my own: how at her grandfather’s
funeral, his daughter—my mother’s mother—
stood at an open door and cried, and then

The blood ran down her legs, gushing from
the womb where thirteen children had nestled,
and now, at once horrified and at ease with her
body’s impropriety, they gathered all around.

This was the grandmother who lost three of those
thirteen, who hung a million baskets of wash,
who peeled a million potatoes, and splattered
her arms with the grease of constant cooking.

This was my grandmother who kept chickens,
who left her voice in the throats of all my aunts,
and was struck down in the cellar, legs twisted
beneath the fall and half her face stiffened.

Helpless until they found her, the jar
of canned fruit smashed on the cement.
And then at her funeral, I saw my mother’s
tears, gliding ahead of me in a black limousine,
a procession not beautiful but haunting.

Joyce Sutphen, “In Black” from Straight Out of View (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Joyce Sutphen. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: Straight Out of View (Beacon Press, 1995)

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Poet Joyce Sutphen b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

 Joyce  Sutphen


Joyce Sutphen grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She earned a PhD in Renaissance drama from the University of Minnesota, and has taught British literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota. Her first collection of poems, Straight Out of View (1995), won the Barnard Women’s Poets Prize. Subsequent collections include Coming Back to the Body (2000), a Minnesota Book Award finalist, Naming the . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Relationships, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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