What Others Have Touched

What Others Have Touched August 19, 2013



My new book of poems, Reduced to Joy, has just been published. The book contains seventy-three poems, retrieved and shaped over the last thirteen years, about the nature of working with what we’re given till it wears us through to joy. For the next few months, I’d like to share poems from the new book with you.

We live in an age that is obsessed with the new; so much that we have been called the disposable society. While it’s often easier to throw something out rather than repair it, we lose our depth of relationship to the things we touch. We lose the human history of objects and tools and the presence they accumulate for moving through many lives. This poem helped me recover a deeper sense of how presence passes itself through all that we touch.


When his grandson was born, he

began collecting antique toys—a torn

doll, a wooden rabbit, a cloth bear.

He loves to see his little one touch

what others have touched.

When told it had to go, she refused

to cut the old apple tree, though its roots

are buckling the driveway. She doesn’t need

the apples. It’s the deer. Every fall she shakes

the upper branches from a ladder. She loves

the small thuds to the ground. She loves

early coffee as they soft-hoof and nibble.

When Jess and Laura were small, I

bought earrings in Florence. I’m saving

them till they turn sixteen. I love think-

ing of the earrings waiting in my closet

for them to grow.

When in Amsterdam, he thought

the museums would grab him, but it

was a sloppy Newfoundland wading

in a reflecting pool; splashing patches

of water filled with sun, then trying

to bite the splashes. He loves to think

of the soul’s journey this way.

When Grandma made potato pancakes

on her small stove, it smelled like burnt

French toast. I’d sit on a stool in the corner

and she’d mat one on some napkins, blow

on it, and give it to me. She’s been gone

twenty years. But I love how she

cooks them for me in my dreams.

A Question to Walk With: Describe one object that has come into your possession that has a history. Describe this history and how it touches you. Describe one object of yours you’d like to pass into the hands of others and why.

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