The unmothered



“There’s a word in Hebrew—malkosh—that means “last rain.” It’s a word that only means something in places like Israel, where there’s a clear distinction between winter and the long, dry stretch of summer. It’s a word, too, that can only be applied in retrospect. When it’s raining, you have no way of knowing that the falling drops would be the last ones of the year. But then time goes by, the clouds clear, and you realize that that rain shower was the one. Having a mother—being mothered—is similar, in a way. It’s a term that I only fully grasp now, with the thirst of hindsight: who she was, who I was for her, what she has equipped me with.

Like a last rain, my mother left behind an earthy scent that lingered long after she was gone. Like a last rain, for a fleeting moment, everything she touched seemed to glow.”

Letters of Plath and Hughes



Part of what makes the story of Plath and Hughes feel so endlessly symbolic is the way it functions as a lightning rod for changing ideas about sexual politics. Letters are almost as central to the cultural story of Plath and Hughes as the poems they wrote to, and about, each other. Twenty years ago, I embarked on a PhD about Plath’s poetry, but became so fascinated by the tug-of-war over her legacy, our culture’s long and determined effort to turn her from an author into a character that I ended up writing a thesis about that story. Now new documents emerge, and the whole tale gets retold – once more, with different feelings.

The facts may alter with new evidence, but mostly it’s our interpretations that have altered. Our ideas – about feminism, marriage, mental illness, suicide and domestic violence – change and with them our attitudes towards Plath and Hughes.

Sympathies shift, from her to him and back again. Just as I was finishing my thesis came the news that Hughes had suddenly published a collection of poems, Birthday Letters, followed soon by Howls & Whispers, an addendum of sorts

Straight  my tears fell, like a sheet of glass

I saw the floor of heaven touch the earth
And I too was affected by its bliss
In the moments just before your death

Like a  heavy satin, gold embossed,
When  your soul went into Paradise
I saw the floor of heaven touch the earth

I saw no suffering Jesus on his Cross
Just a cloud of angels  gold and wise
In the moments just before your death

Straight  my tears fell, like a sheet of glass
As on your serene face I left a kiss
I saw the floors of heaven touch the earth

A sweet bell rang  and my dear man was lost
Nothing can prepare the heart for this
In the moments just after a death

Would we love if we knew the full cost?
He has left me here and I am lost
I saw the floor of heaven touch the earth
In the moments just  around his death




London Town


In London town,I saw the moon,

It looked real impressive.

So I lay myself down on  my coat,

So I could pen this missive.


After lying staring up,

I began to feel dead lazy

I thought I saw the Pope go by.

Do ye’ ken I’m going crazy?


He was in this large white car

Wrapped up in royal tartan.

I know you won’t believe me but

I felt almost certain.


I went to a free soup kitchen,

As I’m a homeless person.

I saw ten angels looking down,

So I called “Stop  that staring”


I crawled inside a shop doorway

To get a few  hours sleep.

I I dreamed I  dwelt in the old UK

It nearly made me weep.


If I really was in my England

I ‘d have the N.H.S.

I’d have a council house of my own
And I’d be surely blessed

Faith and poetry- a podcast



~”On this week’s podcast poet Christian Wiman describes the power of poetry to hosts Matt Malone, S.J., and Kerry Weber. America‘s poetry editor Joe Hoover, S.J., joins to offer his perspective. In conversation with our editors, Wiman described how his ability to write poetry was affected by a period of illness. “It’s dangerous if you’re an artist and the medium through which you process the world is taken away from you. Everything becomes dammed up in you. I met the woman who is now my wife and got sick shortly after that it jolted me into speech. All of those poems [published in Hammer is the Prayer by Farrar, Straus & Giroux]  came directly out of that experience.”

Faith is a major theme in Wiman’s work, which is why he has found a good home as a professor at Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music.  “I think the notion of faith as a crutch is fundamental misunderstanding,” Wiman told our hosts. “Often my experience of faith is that it’s not a crutch. It’s quite the opposite, it’s calling me to something that I can’t quite live up to. I wish it could be more of a consolation, actually.”

If you’d like to learn more about Wiman’s poetry, feel free to see the poem he published in our February 6 issue here.