My Mother's Lists

Make lists. My mother's one sure piece of advice, the one everyday habit that she would hope to pass on. Lists of tasks; things to do; things done; things not to do; bank accounts; people to call or write; people called and written; money spent; money saved; money loaned to her children. List them, cross them out, rewrite them. Make lists of lists. Make lists of the lists you ought to make.

I like to see the lists as poems, very concrete, vivid, believable poems:
Call about lawn care
Send photos to David
Deposit check
Write check for insurance (car)
Record insurance deduction from checking (life)
Switch days off
Call Mary Ann - no Bible study
Meet lawyer to make up will
Buy presents and baskets for Easter
Call about lawn (already above)
Find old list and update
I love the frame on this poem, the lawn care bracketing all these bits of her daily world. I like the juxtapositions--mundane financial matters next to the reminder about her will. The hint of resurrection (Easter) after the gesture towards death.

A poem, a catalogue poem, like Whitman or Sandburg, collected from what we all have around us. Our very lives can be poetry, I say to students, if we just pay attention. By my count, my mother may have written more that 10,000 of these poems.

I should collect them, arrange them (how? chronology? themes? length?), and show a woman's life for over half a century. We could go on NPR and discuss these brilliant found objects (yet not quite found, I'd point out, because constructed deliberately if habitually), and tell others how each woman's life, each man's tasks are poetic.

"I didn't even realize I was writing poems," my mother would say. The interviewer would sigh knowingly, and I would keep silent but recognize, inwardly, how her innocence is a part of the romance and beauty of her words. I would tell my students that seeing these arrangements this way, as beautiful in their mundane dailiness, that this is recognizing "democratic verse." It would make me famous.
To Do
Find Mom's lists
Read them
Arrange them
Rearrange them
Type them
Save some for the sequel
Become very famous.

David Wright

David Wright's mother surprised him with her resilience when his father died several years ago. David was wrong about her, and she was kind enough not to say so.

If you've any comments on this poem, David Wright would be pleased to hear from you. Or you can visit


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