Poetry Friday:”What the living do” by Marie Howe

Poetry Friday is hosted by Liz Steinglass this week.


This poem has haunted me, because it calls to mind a dear friend.  And it brings to mind what we all experience – knowing love, losing those we love, and learning to do what this poet says we somehow manage to do:

“When he died, it was a terrible loss to all of us.  As you know, as everybody knows, you think, ‘My life is changed so utterly I don’t know how to live it anymore.’ And then you find a way.” Marie Howe – on Fresh Air

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled upwaiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat’s on too high in here and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss–we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

–Marie Howe


18 thoughts on “Poetry Friday:”What the living do” by Marie Howe

  1. That was so beautiful, I had to read it twice. Once in my head and then once more out loud. Thank you for slowing me down, Tara. I need that sometimes.

  2. I cannot even imagine the loss of my husband. When I read what others say about this time, I think of how I might feel and the gripping is too painful. Do we need to practice to be ready? Reading this poem is like practice. so full of the everyday, the real, the grief of loss. Thanks, I think.

  3. When the shock of death is new, it’s astonishing that people go about their daily lives, “Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold.” Yet somehow we return to those mundane tasks. It’s “what the living do.” Thank you for sharing this gorgeous poem, Tara.

  4. Amongst the loss and the mundane and the overwhelming, there are lines of hope, like these;
    ‘It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through’.
    Thank-you for sharing, Tara.

  5. Thank you for sharing “what the living do.” It stirs a need to pause and to continue, differently and more deliberately, even knowing that a certain mindlessness is nature’s shock cushion. God bless you. Thank you for featuring this poem for PF!

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