Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.
This week’s poem is from Dawn Potter who has lived, written and raised her kids in Harmony for many years. She directs a conference for teachers at Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, New Hampshire, and her most recent book is “The Vagabond’s Bookshelf: A Reader’s Memoir.”
Her poem describes women trapped between their roles as mothers and their need to find something more for themselves. These are women who lived through the early and middle-part of the 20th century, when many women had few financial or educational options. From the details embedded in the poem, it’s clear that Potter (or the speaker) has seen these women’s sadnesses up close.
In addition to those details – the “dark platters,” the “lists and emptied shelves” – this poem’s power, in part, lies in its form. Every single line of this poem ends in a period, except for one. Not even the lines and sentences of this poem will give these women a way out. And that one line without a period, at the end of the next-to-last stanza, reveals how the speaker is implicated in these women’s lives and how their stories inform her own.
By Dawn Potter
They lived in filth. Or were horribly clean.
They piled scrapple onto dark platters.
They poured milk and ignored the phone.
They arranged stones on windowsills.
They filled lists and emptied shelves.
They dyed their hair in the sink.
One stored a Bible in the bathroom.
One hoarded paper in the dining room.
One stared at Lolita and stirred the soup.
When I say emptied I mean they wanted to feel.
When I say filled I mean they wanted to jump.
When I say bathroom, dining room, soup I mean
I washed my hands.
I sat at the table.
I ate what they gave me.
Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2016 Dawn Potter. It appears here by permission of the author.