American Life in Poetry

I was deeply moved by this week’s poem, which shows us the courage of a person struggling with a disability, one that threatens the way in which she wishes to present herself. It illustrates the fierce dignity that many of us have observed in elderly people. Wesley McNair served five years as poet laureate of Maine, and his most recent book is “The Unfastening,” published by David R. Godine.

My Mother’s Penmanship Lessons

In her last notes, when her hand began

to tremble, my mother tried to teach it

the penmanship she was known for,

how to make the slanted stems

of the p’s and d’s, the descending

roundness of the capital m’s, the long

loops of the f’s crossed at the center,

sending it back again and again

until each message was the same:

a record of her insistence that the hand

return her to the way she was before,

and of all the ways the hand had disobeyed.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It also is supported by the department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Introduction copyright 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.