American Life in Poetry: Mother of Letters

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

One always won­ders just how much we should depend on what we know of a poet out­side of a giv­en poem, to engage and appre­ci­ate that poem.

And yet, it must mean some­thing that this ten­der lyric ode to moth­er­hood comes from an adoptee reflect­ing on how her life as a writer was shaped by the dili­gence and pre­science of her moth­er.

Tiana Nobile​’s poem, ​“Moth­er of Let­ters,” is an ele­gant thank you note to her moth­er, and by exten­sion, to the art of mothering.

Mother of Letters
By Tiana Nobile

For hours my mother hovered over us,
her hand gently guiding mine, her wrist
a helm for my unsteady ship.
I knew how to hold a pencil,
how to grip it between my thumb
and pointer finger, how to lean softly
to avoid a callus. I knew how to form
all my letters perfectly before starting school.
For every birthday, a new notebook
would appear wrapped tightly with a bow.
I would bury my nose inside it
as if the pages would write themselves
with my breath. The pages I'd fill with words
my young tongue was too knotted to express.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2021 by Tiana Nobile, “Mother of Letters” from Cleave (Hub City Press, 2021.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2022 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.