Stephen Dunn -- New and Selected Poems 1974 - 1994When Mother died
I thought: now I'll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable.Yet I've since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who've been loved by their mothers.I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she'd live,
how many lifetimes there arein the sweet revisions of memory.
It's hard to know exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,but I remembered when I was twelve,1951, before the world
unbuttoned its blouse.I had asked my mother (I was trembling)
If I could see her breasts
and she took me into her roomwithout embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who've never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancerfeel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breastswhen girls my age were developing
their separate countries,
what luckshe didn't doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,Perhaps to suck them,
What would she have done?
Mother, dead womanWho I think permits me
to love women easily
this poemis dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficientand to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.
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