Not many young adult authors launch their novels with a poem, much less a two-page piece that transcends their target demographic. So I was surprised to find the poem below on the very first page of bestselling YA author Sarah Dessen‘s novel “That Summer.”
The poem is by South Carolina author Dannye Romine Powell, an award-winning poet, writer and long-time book editor at the “Charlotte Observer,” who counts a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship among her sundry accolades.
More of her beautifully crafted pieces can be found on the web, here and here. They all have something rare in common; they are at once decipherable and allegorical narrative poems. Complex enough to pique the reader, but uncomplicated enough to permit a relaxed exchange.
I also found her poems comforting, like lessons shared by a grandmother who offers her wisdom without ceremony–just another warm glass of milk, dear.
At Every Wedding Someone Stays Home
This one sits all morning
beside the picture window,
staring out at the lawn
which in these situations
is always under a sheet of ice,
even in June. The girl is wearing
her quilted robe, gloves,
fur-lined slippers. Still she can’t
get warm. Her mother gets hot
just watching her, so she goes out
for groceries, makes a great show
when she returns of rattling
the brown paper bags she saves
to line the bird cage.
Now she is running water,
peeling melons, humming, arranging
daisies. We who are watching
want the mother to quit making noise,
to stop chopping fruit, to leave
the kitchen. We want her to walk
down the hall to the closet
where the wool blankets are stored.
We want her to gather five or six,
the solids, the stripes,
the MacGregor plaids and tuck them
under her daughter’s legs, saving one
for her feet and one for her thin shoulders.
Now we want her to heat water for tea,
bring in wood and quick
before her daughter freezes
seal all the windows
against the stray, chill peal of bells.