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About this poet

Marie Howe was born in 1950 in Rochester, NY. She worked as a newspaper reporter and teacher before receiving her MFA from Columbia University in 1983.

Her most recent book, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W. W. Norton, 2009) was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her other collections of poetry include What the Living Do (1998) and The Good Thief (Persea, 1988), which was selected by Margaret Atwood for the 1987 National Poetry Series.

What the Living Do is in many ways an elegy for her brother, John, who died of AIDS in 1989. In 1995, she co-edited the anthology In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (Persea, 1995).

About poetry and everyday life, Howe notes:

This might be the most difficult task for us in postmodern life: not to look away from what is actually happening. To put down the iPod and the e-mail and the phone. To look long enough so that we can look through it—like a window.

The poet Stanley Kunitz called her poetry "luminous, intense, and eloquent, rooted in an abundant inner life." He selected her for a Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets in 1988.

Her other awards include grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Bunting Institute, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has taught at Tufts University and Dartmouth College, among others. Currently she teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, New York University, and Columbia University. She lives in New York City with her daughter.

What the Angels Left

Marie Howe, 1950
At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.

From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc., New York.

From The Good Thief. Copyright © 1988 by Marie Howe. Reprinted by permission of Persea Books, Inc., New York.

Marie Howe

Marie Howe

Marie Howe was born in 1950 in Rochester, New York. She worked as a newspaper reporter and teacher before receiving her MFA from Columbia University in 1983.

by this poet

poem
My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie.
He says that he believes a person can love someone
and still be able to murder that person.

I say, No, that's not love. That's attachment.
Michael says, No, that's love. You can love someone, then come to a day

when you're forced to think "it's
poem

You know it was funny because he seemed so well the night before
I stayed over to meet a student before class

—sitting at the picnic table...already so hot so early.
I must have been looking for a pen or something

when I thought of the car keys and, rummaging through my bag,

poem
Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up
 
waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue,