How It Is

A Poem

“Mother’s #49,” 2002. Ishiuchi Miyako. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

AMERICAN POET MAXINE KUMIN wrote this poem in 1974, after the suicide of her friend, the poet Anne Sexton. During their lives, the poets often exchanged title ideas, manuscripts and clothing. ‘One of the joys of our relationship was the ease with which we traded dresses back and forth, and shoes, and pocketbooks, and coats,’ Kumin has said.


Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.
The dog at the center of my life recognizes
you’ve come to visit, he’s ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.

I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.

Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.
I will be years gathering up our words,
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.

Ishiuchi Miyako is a Japanese photographer whose work deals with material memories.

Maxine Kumin was an American poet.