Three Poems by Sandra Kohler ’61

Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music (Word Press) will appear in May 2011. Earlier collections are The Country of Women (Calyx, 1995) and The Ceremonies of Longing (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003). Her poems have appeared in journals over the past 35 years. Born in New York City in 1940, Kohler attended public schools there, Mount Holyoke College (A.B., 1961) and Bryn Mawr College (A.M., 1966 and Ph.D., 1971). She’s taught literature and writing in venues ranging from elementary school to university. A resident of Pennsylvania for most of her adult life, she’s recently moved to Boston.

For Bernice, Irene and Regina

For years I’ve listened to the three of you
reminisce, daughters of a mother who hung
green shades on the windows, not starched
white lace, never baked any of you a birthday
cake, let one of you (you argue about who)
go to school wearing mismatched socks. She
was the mother-in-law I loved for not caring
who had telephoned who last, for her lifelong
passion for “her flowers,” for her detachment
from her children’s lives, her distant tender
attachment to my son, her youngest grandchild.
You were the women whose womanhood
frightened me, brilliant practitioners of its arts.
Your spotless windows opened into a life I
couldn’t maintain: the curtains washed and
starched and ironed to a perfection nothing in
me could reach. I didn’t understand how you
were driven by memory: the childhood houses
of your friends, islands of order and decorum
home didn’t offer, led each of you to a vow,
the veil of a sisterhood your mother flouted
innocently; for your children, you would be
the mother your childhoods longed for.

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