American Life in Poetry

At a friend’s wedding, as she stood in her reception line, an older woman leaned in and whispered, “Always rinse your dishrag in cold water so it won’t stink.” Advice! Christine Stewart-Nunez lives and teaches in South Dakota, and the following poem capturing her grandmother’s witty advice is from her book “Untrussed,” from the University of New Mexico Press.

For Elizabeth, Who Loved to Square Dance

I wore Grandma Liz’s pearls

for play, a plastic strand long

enough to pool on the carpet

over my stubbed toes. When I pull

them over my head now, I smell

phantoms: cigarettes, Estee

Lauder. I don’t smoke or spritz

on perfume. I don’t layer polyester

or perm my hair. I’ve slipped off

my wedding ring as she did, signed

divorce. What advice would she offer

for life between husbands? Wear red

lipstick and always leave it behind.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, 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.