The Routine Things Around The House

When Mother died
I thought: now I’ll have a death poem.
That was unforgivable.

Yet I’ve since forgiven myself
as sons are able to do
who’ve been loved by their mothers.

I stared into the coffin
knowing how long she’d live,
how many lifetimes there are

in the sweet revisions of memory.
It’s hard to know exactly
how we ease ourselves back from sadness,

but I remembered when I was twelve,
1951, before the world
unbuttoned its blouse.

I had asked my mother (I was trembling)
If I could see her breasts
and she took me into her room

without embarrassment or coyness
and I stared at them,
afraid to ask for more.

Now, years later, someone tells me
Cancers who’ve never had mother love
are doomed and I, a Cancer

feel blessed again. What luck
to have had a mother
who showed me her breasts

when girls my age were developing
their separate countries,
what luck

she didn’t doom me
with too much or too little.
Had I asked to touch,

Perhaps to suck them,
What would she have done?
Mother, dead woman

Who I think permits me
to love women easily
this poem

is dedicated to where
we stopped, to the incompleteness
that was sufficient

and to how you buttoned up,
began doing the routine things
around the house.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Stephen Dunn's poem The Routine Things Around The House


  1. Daniel says:

    The way you structured your sentence, Coleen, you make it sound like Dunn’s mother exposed her breasts after she died. I guess you meant to say Dunn revealed, after his mother’s death, the fact that his mother had exposed herself to him. Revise your sentences before you go pointing fingers. By the way, Stephen Dunn is a fantastic poet.

  2. Michael says:

    This poem is spectacular, and rather than blaspheming her name, I think he exalts his mother and her candidness at sharing the really tough things to share, without shame or diapproval. “(she)permits me to love women easily”, shows the poets gratitude towards his passed mother.

  3. mikael says:

    coleen: no wonder all you read is dr. seuss. try to read dunn’s poem a little more discerningly and with a little more openness. the poem, i think, is actually a tribute to the mother. i guess you’re the one with issues if you think the poet can’t talk about a mother in that way.

  4. Coleen says:

    this guy has issues, i just came across this site will looking for a dr suess poem and came across this poem, i think it is extremely sad how he can tell people that his mother showed him her breasts after she had died, thats a good way of blackening her name to the people that know her, and disrespecting her memory.

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