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Burt Kimmelman

KimmelmanPicForKarlYoung4aBorn in Brooklyn, New York, Burt Kimmelman has published eight collections of poetry: Gradually the World: New and Selected Poems, 1982-2013 (BlazeVOX), The Way We Live (Dos Madres Press, 2011), As If Free (Talisman House, Publishers, 2009),There Are Words (Dos Madres Press, 2007), Somehow (Marsh Hawk Press, 2005), The Pond at Cape May Point (Marsh Hawk Press, 2002), a collaboration with the painter Fred Caruso, First Life (Jensen/Daniels Publishing, 2000), and Musaics (Sputyen Duyvil Press, 1992).

Kimmelman has also published a number of books of literary criticism, including The “Winter Mind”: William Bronk and American Letters (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998), and scores of essays on medieval, modern, or contemporary poetry. In the 1980s and 1990s he was senior editor of the now-defunct Poetry New York: A Journal of Poetry and Translation. Some interviews of Kimmelman are available online: with Tom Fink in Jacket 40 (text), and with George Spencer at Poetry Thin Air (video).

Kimmelman teaches literary and cultural studies at New Jersey Institute of Technology. (Poetry Foundation)

I loved this poem because of the parallel Kimmelman drew between helping a child walk and eat and helping his mother. It made me very sad my relationship with my mom had been so different. But there was also one phrase in the poem that has given me much, much food for thought. “…when the body betrays the soul…” Sometimes that begins to happen long before we approach old age…


Taking Dinner to My Mother

My mother sits on the edge of her bed,
a scarf on her head to hide the gray hair
she can no longer manage to dye black,
her flesh falling away from the frame of
her face and shoulders, loosened by the loss
of weight when the body betrays the soul,
when the body’s pain forbids all desire.
But tonight she is hungry, and I have

come bearing corned beef and pastrami, bread,
sour pickles and a kasha knish.
I help her to the table in slow, small

steps, a pas de deux we have carried on,
I realize, for almost sixty years, and
I think of how, some time before, I held
my daughter’s hands, bent over, as she learned
how to walk – the fact of balance, which we
live with until it abandons us – and
how my mother, in a photograph, held
me in the same way. Earlier today,

I had stopped at a café and, sitting
still for a moment, looking up from my
book, I watched how, at a nearby table,

a new mother fed her infant daughter,
who sat up in her baby carriage, some
bits of crustless bread held between thumb and
forefinger, while her grandfather talked on,
the smell of her mother’s hand mingled with
this first food, a small bird in her nest. At
my mother’s table I fix her sandwich
and tell her about her granddaughter who

met a boy for a moment in a flea
market, who is now a first love, but my
mother’s eyelids are starting to lower,
her head nodding forward slightly, so I
gather her up and walk her back to her
bed, sit her down and swing her swollen legs
up and then under the covers, turn off
all the lights but one, close and lock the door.


Picture Credit: www.thing.net