“a flower sprang, lilylike, more brilliant / than the purples of Tyre”: Louise Glück’s “Hyacinth”

photo (35)I wish I’d been able to celebrate National Poetry Month with more fanfare, Dear Readers—next year, I hope, will be different—but I hope you’ve had the chance to read a poem or two more than usual. In fact, I’d love to hear about what you’ve been reading, so please let me know in the comments which poems you’ve liked recently (slow to respond though I am, always begging your pardon).

This past weekend friends visited us for dinner and conversation, and brought with them beautiful stems of hyacinth from their garden. The whole apartment smells like spring. It happens to be one of my very favorite flowers, so here is a poem by one of my very favorite poets, Louise Glück, to go with it, though I think you’ll see that her poem is much more somber than the flower.

“Three days of spring winter and suddenly / birds everywhere.”

I had a lovely Mother’s Day — thank you for asking! My husband gave me the gift of extra sleep in the morning, which was glorious, and I woke up to homemade biscuits smothered in hollandaise. Couldn’t have been better.

I was looking, this week, for a poem about mothers, but I find that they tend to be, necessarily, incredibly specific, tied to the poet’s or speaker’s own mother or conception of motherhood. And, as I thought about it further, I realized how difficult it would be for me, personally, to write a poem even about one small aspect of my relationship with my own (amazing, kind, generous, hard-working, accomplished, intelligent, warm, self-sacrificing) mother.

So I gave up, and nosed around for a poem that would express a little of the happiness I’ve felt over the last few weeks when enjoying time with my son (it’s only my second Mother’s Day), and I came across Kathy Fagan’s “Letter from the Garden,” from her 2002 book The Charm.

Now, a disclaimer here: Professor Fagan teaches at my alma mater, and while I never had the privilege of taking one of her courses, several of my friends did, and I’ve met Professor Fagan once or twice, though there’s no way she’d remember me. Personal feelings and alumni pride aside, she’s a wonderful poet, and you should head over to your local bookseller and ask for one of her books.

“Letter from the Garden” has nothing to do with mothers and sons — it’s addressed to a lover — but what made me choose it this week is the poem’s attention to birds, filling the space of early spring, appearing “everywhere.” We’ve had that experience this year. I rather dislike birds (excepting only penguins, owls, and ducks) and their beady, gold-rimmed or black-pooling eyes and reptilian feet. Flying dinosaurs.

My son, however, loves them. He stares at them from the dining room windows. He chases every single one he sees, despite the fact that they always flee from him, and seeing ducks in a pond or robins at the cemetery is the highlight of many a weekend.

looking at the birds


Two weeks ago, we saw a wholly golden-yellow small bird (a finch?) alight on a tree next to us, and he turned to me and whispered, “Quiiiiii–et”; when it disappeared, he determined that it was sleeping, and that’s why it wouldn’t come back. I try now to see the birds through his eyes: the graceful hops and undignified racing for the trees when they see his little body bopping toward them, the sudden, knowing turn of the head.