WHAT I SAID WHEN MY SON ASKED ME IF I GREW UP POOR
A poem by Svea Barrett
I remember a chipped, milk chocolate house and
a cocker spaniel who bit a passer-by so my dad
had to shoot him. I remember a green pedal car
and a big tin washtub, which was our pool in summer.
I remember Dad pushed the mower hard and not often,
its silvery rust-flecked blades spun and spiraled as
dad wiped his sweat with a stained white handkerchief.
There was no smell but cut grass, no sound but the
of the blades. Bees bumped against the screen in my
my sister and I held rabbits under the kitchen sink
and our big front porch with its broken white wicker
rockers made the best seat in town for all the
And here's another, one I can (as an English teacher lady) especially relate to:
FOR MY STUDENTS WHO BRING ME POEMS AFTER SCHOOL
“Will you read this for me?” But why, I'll want to say.
So I will. Why? And you'll say, “because I want to know
what you think.” But you don’t. I can’t read a poem
without a pen anymore, and it will slash. “Needed?”
I will write next to a part I have isolated with my
small inward curves of ink and you’ll cry. No, that’s
so arrogant of me of course you won’t actually cry.
Worse, you’ll argue. “That’s not what I meant.” Then
say what you mean, I’ll want to say, but I’ll say OK,
what do you mean? And you’ll tell me and I’ll say
that’s so good—say that in the poem. “Oh!” You’ll say,
“I can say that in a poem?” Yes. “But I can’t today.
I have to hand it in now, it's already late.” I’ll sigh.
So why did you want to know what I think? But I
won’t say that. I have no time for this—I want to
read a poem that’s done—Elizabeth Bishop. Naomi
Shihab Nye. C.K. Williams. Billy Collins, even.
Or else the pen comes--if you ask me, it will come
and not like you want—I will draw lines through
parts, I will pepper the margins with question marks.
Yes, there will be some checks or even check pluses—
my grudging way to say way to go if you know what
they mean and if you were in my class you would
and I would have time for your poem and it would
be for a purpose then, not just because you need me
to say it’s great just the way it is instead of how it
could be, possibly, even a little bit better.
Svea Barrett lives with her husband and three sons in NJ, where she teaches high school creative writing. Her work has appeared in various online and print publications such as Samsara Quarterly, The Paterson Literary Review, LIPS, The Edison Literary Review, and The Journal of New Jersey Poets. Svea won Second Place (tied) in the 2003 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest, and her chapbook, Why I Collect Moose, won the 2005 Poets Corner Press Poetry Chapbook Contest.)
Happy Poetry Friday everybody!