Covid-19 times are emotional times. They lead us to reflect on what is important for us. They even begin to set priorities for us—God, family, home, church, community. They are much like a poem. Good poetry takes me out of my own mind and leads me away to think of others. When I read a good poem that does that I want to go back into it and reflect on how it had this effect. What was it in the words, what was it in the meter, why does it affect me as it does? In turn, it leads me back to look at my life as it is right now—even in the midst of months of imbalance in terms of face-to-face relationships. I ask myself: what is it that holds my life together now? When this is all over, what will I have learned from this experience? How will I live differently because of what I now know?
“Poem for the Family” by Susan Cataldo is a poem that opens up this world of reflection. According to anthologist, Garrison Keillor, the author is from Bronx, New York, and lived from 1952-2001. Susan’s own mother died of cancer when she was nine, and she died of ovarian cancer at age 48. Perhaps that’s why she so treasured family and normalcy, and captured it in this poem.
Before I went to sleep, the soft lamplights From the tenements across the street, Still, in the night, resembled peace. There is something I forgot to be grateful for. But I’m not uneasy. This poem is enough gratitude for the day. That leaf tapping against the window, enough music for the night. My love’s even breathing a lullaby for me. Gentle is the sun’s touch as it brushes the earth’s revolutions. Fragrant is the moon in February’s sky. Stars look down & witness, never judge. The City moves beneath me, out of sight. O let this poem be a planet or a haven. Heaven for a poet homeward bound. Rest my son’s head upon sweet dreams & contentment. Let me turn out the light to rest.
(Susan Cataldo in Garrison Keillor, Good Poems for Hard Times, page 276)