Friday, August 24, 2012


Ever since my father and I visited Louisa May Alcott's house, I've been on a sister-poem kick.

That could be because I have a wonderful sister. I can't remember a day when she wasn't wonderful. Which is why I brought home to her a print of one of Louisa's poems she wrote for her own sister, titled "To Anna."

Then I came home to a box of poetry books that included elephant poems by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, in her book COUSINS OF CLOUDS (illustrated by Megan Halsey an Sean Addy). One of my favorite poems in the book is about sisters:


She detours through brush
to caress the sun-bleached bones
of her lost sister.

-Tracie Vaughn Zimmer

And THEN I was re-reading Laura Shovan's lovely collection MOUNTAIN, LOG, SALT, and STONE, which also includes a sister-poem (though not just a sister-poem), that Laura told me was one of the first poems she ever had published.

Dear Sister, Unborn

by Laura Shovan

At eight months, your elbows
were protrusions, your heartbeat
a murmur. I was two.
Resting my head on our mother's belly
I could not picture the shape of you.
I cannot picture my own child.
He is all backbone, his heart
a tiny red balloon.
I fear it might burst.

Knowing you, Sister, I see blood.
I look for signs of it on my under things,
for pink swirls in the toilet.
It is easier to imagine great clots
running down my thighs
than the sound of a baby
crying for me in the night,
than the sucking of a small mouth
at my breasts (which already hurt me).

Sister, that elbow in my face said,
"I am feverish to be free,"
not of her body, but of us all,
weary of life before you were born.
Our parents mourned.
Mother moved thickly
about the quiet house.
Even I, two years old,
felt the imprint of your loss.

Sister suicide, my child is invisible.
How could I hold him if he tried to escape?
I slice my palm in the kitchen
and know that he could rush out,
laughing, on the waves of my pulse.
Sister I cannot force him to stay.
I can do nothing. Not even
make my heart stop beating,
like you.

Wow, huh? Thank you, Laura, for allowing me to share! And y'all: READ HER BOOK.

And finally, I'd like to share a sister-poem that I wrote a few years ago after I'd taken at Birmingham Botanical Gardens a Private Eye class, which teaches analogy by implementing a technique of inquiry that requires a jeweler's loupe.

I was so touched and honored when amazing librarian-friend Carol York (who, I don't care what she says, is also a poet among many other wonderful things) used it to make a letterpress broadside. (Shhh... my sister doesn't know yet... I'm sending her one in a frame!) Thank you, Carol, again and again!

To a Black-Eyed Susan

Sister, I'll bustle you
from the bumblebee masses,
admire your one unblinking eye
with its billion shuttered windows.

-Irene Latham

Readers, do you have a favorite sister-poem? Tell me, tell me!

For more poetic goodness, visit Doraine (only one of the dearest people you will ever meet) at Dori Reads for Roundup!


  1. Hi, Irene. I'm honored to be a guest poet at your blog today. I see a thread in these poems -- each uses an image from nature to describe the sister. The brush of memory, the waves of pulse, the sister who you'd know in a field of flowers.

    1. Laura, that's really a great tip for anyone writing about a child or dear one, as those poems can so easily turn sentimental... grab something from nature, and work from there! It's an honor to know you and your work.

  2. Love all these poems, and am envious of those of you who grew up with a sister. My mother had 4 sisters, and it was indeed "interesting" to observe their interactions with one another.

    1. Ha! "Interesting" sounds like a very diplomatic way of saying perhaps with four sisters things weren't as rosy as my experience with one?! :) You MUST write more about this, Jama. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. So much to love here today, Irene - The glimpse into COUSINS OF CLOUDS, which is on my "list," and Laura's powerful poem from her powerful collection, which I already love, and then your singular observations among the "bumblebee masses." [I was yours already today with a "letterpress broadside" - Carol's my kind of woman.]

    What a terrific celebration of sisters!

    1. I will bring COUSINS OF CLOUDS to WIK for you! Thanks for stopping by... and yes, you would love Carol (and she would love you). Let's make that happen! xo

  4. Oh, and I forgot to thank you for the Louisa May Alcott poem link with that lovely calligraphy. So, thanks for that, too!

    1. Funny thing: my sister's daughter's name is "Anna," so when she received the poem in the mail, there was a bit of a wrestling match over whose poem it actually was! (the name "Anna" actually made the poem all the more special to me)

  5. Oh my, I'm so full of emotion I think I might burst! Oh what a wonderful post. The works you've posted are beautiful. I can barely see to type my feelings are pouring from my eyes. I am so glad I stopped by. Love your poem so much Irene. Thank you for sharing all of this with us. I've got some reading (of some lovely words) to do.

    1. Pam, I know just what you mean! I'm so glad you stopped by. We who get teary eyed over words MUST stick together. Thank you for your comment!

  6. All beautiful, Irene. I like that you wrote about the bees, that among the many, the sister is the important one. I am sorry that I didn't have a sister too, but I am very close to my brother, and his wife, so it helps! I too was interested that the poems used nature as a stem. Thank you.

    1. Linda, how fortunate you are to be very close with a brother and his wife! Perhaps we need to search for some brother poems?? Or WRITE them. :) thanks for stopping by!

  7. Hi Irene! I don't have a sister, so maybe that's why I can't think of any sister poems to add to your outstanding collection. Wait! There's "In Praise of My Sister" by Wislawa Szymborska.

    1. Thank you Tabatha! I'd not read this one. How lonely sometimes, the poet in a family of non-poets... here's the link for other browsers

  8. I don't have blood sisters but I have friends that I love as much as my brothers, maybe a few more... no, I won't say that... different is what I really mean... I'm the oldest... the only daughter of an only son...

    1. yes, we can definitely love different people in different ways... you are like a sister to me. xo

  9. These are beautiful and make me miss my sister over in England.

    1. Catherine, how wonderful your visits must be! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  10. Like Jama, you make me wish for the sister(s) I never had.

    1. Mary Lee, I'll be your sister. xo Thanks for stopping by!

  11. And me, too. One brother, so far away, in more ways than one...

    1. Diane, I have a couple of brothers who are far away in more ways than one... I hope that doesn't happen with my sons, but who knows?? sigh. Thanks for stopping by.

  12. These are beautiful, Irene. No sisters here, but I watch my two girls and love seeing the sisterhood they share. And soon, my brother and wife may be moving here, so I'm going to count on some sister kind of time time with her.

    1. Yes! When we are not given these relationships by blood, we've got to go out and CREATE them. And how fun to watch your daughters?? xo

  13. Like Jama and Mary Lee, I always wanted a sister... and these poems really get at the special bond sisters share.


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