Poem for a Monday Morning: What the Living Do

Good morning! Time for a poem again! (Want more? Click here.)

So Hurricane Irene didn’t turn out as bad as anticipated, and a lot of people have been getting pretty snarky about all the preparation being for nothing. But as the death toll climbs to 20 people, I think now would be a good time to show a little gratitude for being alive, and it is in this spirit that I offer the poem below.

“What the Living Do,” the title poem of a book by the same name, was written by American poet Marie Howe in 1998. The poem, and the collection as a whole, served as an elegy to her brother John who passed away of AIDS in 1989 and is referenced in the poem.

Marie Howe poet, What the Living do

Marie Howe

For me, this poem is a reminder to see the beauty in the everyday moments – the basic comings and goings of errands and necessities, chores and minor catastrophes – because these minutes and hours add up to the days of one’s life. There are so many things in this world to want, but sometimes just being alive is enough.


“What the Living Do”

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days,
some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but it smells dangerous, and
the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is
the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep headstrong blue, and the sunlight
pours through

the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in
here, and I can’t turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the
street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking: this is what the living do. And yesterday,
hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down
my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This
is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called
that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the
winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss – we want more
and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of
myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I’m gripped by a
cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat
that I’m speechless:
I am living, I remember you.

Marie Howe


What did you think?

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7 Comments on “Poem for a Monday Morning: What the Living Do”

  1. August 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing this. You’ve inspired me to start posting poems I love–but on a Tuesday, so don’t worry :). Such a good idea, hooray for you.

    • August 30, 2011 at 1:29 am #

      Glad you liked it!

      And I’m not worried – the more poetry the better! I can’t wait to read your selections. :)

  2. August 30, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

    One of my absolute favourites! I love that you post poetry too. <3

  3. September 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    Stop by our blog lovely, you have an award :)


    M x

  4. February 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    Are you doing okay, lovely? Haven’t posted in awhile! xo

  5. emmamulligan
    November 29, 2012 at 2:17 am #

    *ahem* I hereby nominate you for the Sunshine Award! Please consult this page for more [http://runesandrhinestones.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/sunshine-award-time-to-procrastinate/]

    P.S. We still need you! Come baaaack!

  6. December 5, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    love this poem.. thank you. I heard her on NPR. she is amazing

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