Today’s poem is “Dear” by Betsy Sholl, who was Maine’s third poet laureate. She has published eight books of poetry, most recently Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin Press 2014). She lives in Portland and teaches in the MFA Program of Vermont College.
She writes, “[The poem] began as an attempt to write a series of alphabet poems, to let the particular letter involved sort of guide the poem to discover what it could be by letting that alphabet letter speak. (I got as far as K and had to take a break.)
“[In] 'Dear,' I was thinking about how I heard that word used in different ways during my childhood, and, more than that, about what it means that we consider some things 'dear,' or precious, and other things (or people) disposable.”
by Betsy Sholl
meant pricey when Grandmother said it
in the grocery store, clucking over asparagus
in winter, raspberries in March.
But in Mother’s voice it meant something more
like adoration—until later,
the word turned into worried “oh dears”
as I composed my adolescent dramas,
those rough drafts of destiny. I hardly noticed
the derelicts lined up in the doctor’s hallway
getting jabbed through their clothes
as I walked in, anemic from dieting.
I hadn’t yet taught the guys in prison
for drugs, for doing what others just dream,
hadn’t heard stories of childhood damage,
so could almost think drunks deserved their fate.
As if dogs deserve to be kicked, to be under
another’s boot, the way our neighbor
jabbed a broomstick into his great Dane
trying to turn her from sweet to vicious.
No one on our street was deaf to those cries,
her whimper and shriek as the man snarled.
Still, each afternoon as I read Bible stories
into my grandmother’s hearing aid box,
stories that thrive on reversals—last, first,
poor, rich, those who give, those who hold back—
I thought I knew which ones God would love.
I was young. I thought I knew.
“Dear” copyright © 2016 Betsy Sholl. Reprinted from Numero Cinq (May 2016) by permission of Betsy Sholl.