Because my mother loved pocketbooks
I come alive at the opening click or close of a metal clasp.
And sometimes, unexpectedly, a faux crocodile handle makes me weep.
Breathy clearing of throat, a smooth arm, heels on pavement, she lingers, sound tattoos.
I go to the thrift store to feel for bobby pins caught in the pocket seam
of a camel hair coat.
I hinge a satin handbag in the crease of my arm. I buy a little change purse with its
curled and fitted snap.
My mother bought this for me. This was my mother’s.
I buy and then I buy and then, another day, I buy something else.
In Paris she had a dog, Bijou, and when they fled Paris in 1942 they left the dog behind.
When my mother died on February 9, 1983, she left me.
Now, thirty years later and I am exactly her age.
I tell my husband I will probably die by the end of today and all day he says, Are you
getting close, Sweetheart? And late in the afternoon, he asks if he should buy enough filet
of sole for two.
From a blue velvet clutch I take out a mirror and behold my lips in the small rectangle.
Put on something nice. Let him splurge and take you out for dinner, my mother whispers
on the glass.
About this Poem
"This was a poem written as I tried to write another poem. My mother often shows up this way, pushing up in the cracks and lapses of other poems. I am always surprised by the way my mother lives in me and how much—30 years after her death—I am still talking to her, inventing her, feeling her shape me."
Victoria Redel was born in New York City on April 9, 1959, a first-generation American of Belgian, Egyptian, Polish, Romanian, and Russian descent. Redel grew up in Scarsdale, New York, and later attended Dartmouth College, where she graduated with a degree in visual arts in 1980. She worked as an addiction counselor in hospitals in Greenfield and Concord, Massachusetts, before she returned to New York City to pursue her MFA in poetry at Columbia University. While there, she sat in on a fiction course taught by writer Gordon Lish, then the editor at Knopf, and began writing fiction as well.
Redel is the author of three poetry collections: Woman Without Umbrella (Four Way Books, 2012), Swoon (University of Chicago Press, 2003), and Already the World (Kent State University Press, 1995). She is also the author of four books of fiction, including the award-winning novel Loverboy (Graywolf Press, 2001), which was adapted into a feature film in 2005.
In her review of Woman Without Umbrella, Carolyn Forché writes, “Woman Without Umbrella braves the perilous world of the present in allegorical lyrics of unexpected love, wild survival, diasporic estrangement. These are poems of gratitude for the still quickening of mature eros, the still ‘bright absolute' of desire. Redel's luminous ‘postcards to the future' render our predicament radically legible, to be survived with whatever courage we can summon. Delight with her in a city of miraculous luck.”
Redel has taught writing at Columbia University, Davidson College, The New School, and Vermont College and has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a faculty member at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in New York City.
Woman Without Umbrella (Four Way Books, 2012)
Swoon (University of Chicago Press, 2003)
Already the World (Kent State University Press, 1995)
Make Me Do Things (Four Way Books, 2013)
The Border of Truth (Counterpoint Press, 2007)
Loverboy (Graywolf Press, 2001)
Where the Road Bottoms Out (Knopf, 1995)
Date Published: 2013-06-27
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/getting-close