(b. 1925 - † 6-2-2014)


           Obituary, here




Maxine Kumin was born in Philadelphia in 1925. She has published several books of poetry, including The Long Marriage (W. W. Norton & Co., 2001); Connecting the Dots (1996); Looking for Luck (1992), which received the Poets' Prize; Nurture (1989); The Long Approach (1986); Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief: New and Selected Poems (1982); House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate (1975); and Up Country: Poems of New England (1972), for which she received the Pulitzer Prize. She is also the author of a memoir, Inside the Halo and Beyond: The Anatomy of a Recovery (W. W. Norton, 2000); four novels; a collection of short stories; more than twenty children's books; and four books of essays, most recently Always Beginning: Essays on a Life in Poetry (Copper Canyon, 2000) and Women, Animals, and Vegetables (1994). She has received the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern Poetry, an American Academy of Arts and Letters award, the Sarah Joseph Hale Award, the Levinson Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry, and fellowships from The Academy of American Poets, and the National Council on the Arts. She has served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, and is a former Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. She lives in New Hampshire.



After love



Heaven as Anus

How it is

In the Absence of Bliss

Living alone with Jesus
Looking for luck in Bangkok

Morning swim



Photograph, U.S. Army Flying School, College Park, Maryland, 1909

Poem for an Election Year: The Politics of Bindweed

The Hermit has a Visitor

The Jesus infection

The Microscope

The Nuns of Childhood: Two Views

The selling of the slaves

Young nun at bread loaf





After Love


Afterwards, the compromise.
Bodies resume their boundaries.


These legs, for instance, mine.
Your arms take you back in.


Spoons of our fingers, lips
admit their ownership.


The bedding yawns, a door
blows aimlessly ajar


and overhead, a plane
singsongs coming down.


Nothing is changed, except
there was a moment when


the wolf, the mongering wolf
who stands outside the self


lay lightly down, and slept.








This dwelt in me who does not know me now,

where in her labyrinth I cannot follow,

advance to be recognized, displace her terror;

I hold my heartbeat on my lap and cannot comfort her.

Tonight she is condemned to cry out wolf

or werewolf, and it echoes in the gulf

and no one comes to cradle cold Narcissus;

the first cell that divided separates us.







Morning Swim

 Into my empty head there comes
a cotton beach, a duck wherefrom.

I set out, oily and nude
through mist, in chilly solitude.

There was no line, no roof or floor
to tell the water from the air.

Night fog thick as terry cloth
closed me in its fuzzy growth.

I hung my bathrobe on two pegs.
I took the lake between my legs.

Invaded and invader, I
went overhand on that flat sky.

Fish twitched beneath me, quick and tame
In their green zone they sang my name.

and in rhythm of the swim
I hummed a two-four-time slow hymn.

I hummed Abide with Me. The beat
rose in the fine thrash of my feet,

rose in the bubbles I put out
slantwise, trailing through my mouth.

My bones drank water; water fell
through all my doors. I was the well

that fed the lake that met my sea
in which I sang Abide with Me.






The Microscope

Anton Leewenhoe was Dutch;
He sold pincushions, cloth and such.
The waiting townsfolk fumed and fussed
As Anton’s dry goods gathered dust.

He worked instead of tending store,
At grinding special lenses for
A microscope. Some of the things
He looked at were:
mosquitoes’ wings,
the hairs of sheep, the legs of lice,
the skin of people, dogs, and mice;
ox eyes, spiders’ spinning gear,
fishes’ scales, a little smear
of his own blood,
and best of all,
the unknown, busy, very small
bugs that swim and bump and hop
inside a simple water drop.

Impossible! Most Dutchmen said.
This Anton’s crazy in the head.
We ought to ship him off to Spain:
He says he’s seen a housefly’s brain.
He says the water that we drink
Is full of bugs. He’s mad, we think!

They called him dumbkopf, which means dope.
That’s how we got the microscope.




Looking for luck in Bangkok

Often at markets I see
people standing in line
to walk under an elephant.
They count out a few coins,
then crouch to slip beneath
the wrinkly umbrella that smells
of dust and old age
and a thousand miracles.

They unfold on the other side
blessed with long life,
good luck, solace from grief,

unruly children and certain
liver complaints.

Conspicuous Caucasian,
I stoop to take my turn.
The feet of my elephant are stout
as planted pines. His trunk completes
this honest structure,

this tractable, tusked,
and deeply creased
endangered shelter.

I squat in his aromatic shade
reminded of stale bedclothes,
my mother's pantry shelves
of cloves and vinegar,
as if there were no world of drought,
no parasites, no ivory poachers.
My good luck running in
as his runs out.






Poem for an Election Year: The Politics of Bindweed

I have lived all season among the bindweed.
I have spied on their silent Anschluss,
the bugles of their flowers, the dark guy wires
they put down into earth from which to fling
slim vines that burgeon into airy traps.

At eye level I have seen them strangle aster,
milkweed, buttercup; I have taken note of
their seemingly random entanglement by tendril
of the whole drowsy meadow. My own ankles
have been tugged and held fast by these fanatics.

These barbarian cousins of morning glory
mean to smother the clover, drive out the livestock,
send scouts to infiltrate the next hayfield,
exploit the ties of family and class
until they rule from hedgerow to hedgerow.

Wherefore all season on my hands and knees
I have ripped out roots, stems, ringlets and blossoms.
I have pursued every innocent threadlike structure
to its source, then plucked it. My chosen task is
to reestablish the republic of grasses.





Academy of American Poets

Modern American Poetry




An interview by Daina Savage, October 1994



 The Hermit Has a Visitor

Once he puts out the light
moth wings on the window screen slow
and drop away like film lapping the spool
after the home movie runs out.

He lies curled like a lima bean
still holding back its cotyledon.
Night is a honeycomb.
Night is the fur on a blue plum.
And then she sings. She raises the juice.
She is a needle, he the cloth.
She is an A string, he the rosewood.
She is the thin whine at concert pitch.

She has the eggs and he the blood
and after she is a small
red stain on the wall
he will itch.





In the Absence of Bliss

Museum of the Diaspora, Tel Aviv

The roasting alive of rabbis
in the ardor of the Crusades
went unremarked in Europe from
the Holy Roman Empire to 1918,

open without prerequisite
when I was an undergraduate.

While reciting the Sh'ma in full
expectation that their souls
would waft up to the bosom
of the Almighty the rabbis burned,
pious past the humming extremes
of pain. And their loved ones with them.
Whole communities tortured and set aflame
in Christ's name
while chanting Hear, O Israel.

Why couldn't the rabbis recant,
kiss the Cross, pretend?
Is God so simple that He can't
sort out real from sham?
Did He want
these fanatic autos-da-f‰, admire
the eyeballs popping.
the corpses shrinking in the fire?

We live in an orderly
universe of discoverable laws,
writes an intelligent alumna
in Harvard Magazine.
Bliss is belief,
agnostics always say
a little condescendingly
as befits mandarins who function
on a higher moral plane.

Consider our contemporary
Muslim kamikazes
hurling their explosives-
packed trucks through barriers.
Isn't it all the same?
They too die cherishing the fond
certitude of a better life beyond.

We walk away from twenty-two
graphic centuries of kill-the-jew
and hail, of all things, a Mercedes
taxi. The driver is Yemeni,
loves rock music and hangs
each son's picture—three so far—
on tassels from his rearview mirror.
I do not tell him that in Yemen
Jewish men, like women, were forbidden
to ride their donkeys astride,
having just seen this humiliation
illustrated on the Museum screen.

When his parents came
to the Promised Land, they entered
the belly of an enormous
silver bird, not knowing whether
they would live or die.
No matter. As it was written,
the Messiah had drawn nigh.

I do not ask, who tied
the leaping ram inside the thicket?
Who polished, then blighted the apple?
Who loosed pigs in the Temple,
set tribe against tribe
and nailed man in His pocket?

But ask myself, what would
I die for and reciting what?
Not for Yahweh, Allah, Christ,
those patriarchal fists
in the face. But would
I die to save a child?
Rescue my lover? Would
I run into the fiery barn
to release animals,
singed and panicked, from their stalls?

Bliss is belief, but where's
the higher moral plane I roost on?
This narrow plank given to splinters.
No answers. Only questions.





The Nuns of Childhood: Two Views

O where are they now, your harridan nuns
who thumped on young heads with a metal thimble
and punished with rulers your upturned palms:

three smacks for failing in long division,
one more to instill the meaning of humble.
As the twig is bent, said your harridan nuns.

Once, a visiting bishop, serene
at the close of a Mass through which he had shambled,
smiled upon you with upturned palms.

"Because this is my feast day," he ended,
"you may all have a free afternoon." In the scramble
of whistles and cheers one harridan nun,

fiercest of all the parochial coven,
Sister Pascala, without preamble
raged, "I protest!" and rapping on palms

at random, had bodily to be restrained.
O God's perfect servant is kneeling on brambles
wherever they sent her, your harridan nun,
enthroned as a symbol with upturned palms.


O where are they now, my darling nuns
whose heads were shaved under snowy wimples,
who rustled drily inside their gowns,

disciples of Oxydol, starch and bluing,
their backyard clothesline a pious example?
They have flapped out of sight, my darling nuns.

Seamless as fish, made all of one skin,
their language secret, these gentle vestals
were wedded to Christ inside their gowns.

O Mother Superior Rosarine
on whose lap the privileged visitor lolled
--I at age four with my darling nuns,

with Sister Elizabeth, Sister Ann,
am offered to Jesus, the Jewish child-
next-door, who worships your ample black gown,

your eyebrows, those thick mustachioed twins,
your rimless glasses, your ring of pale gold--
who can have stolen my darling nuns?
Who rustles drily inside my gown?







Photograph, U.S. Army Flying School, College Park, Maryland, 1909


Wilbur Wright is racing the locomotive

on the Baltimore and Ohio commuter line.

The great iron horse hisses and hums on its rails

but the frail dragonfly overhead appears to be winning.

Soon we will have dog fights and the Red Baron.

The firebombing of Dresden is still to come.

And the first two A-bombs, all that there are.


The afterburners of jets lie far in the future

and the seeds of our last descendants, who knows,

are they not yet stored in their pouches?


from: Nurture, poems by Maxine Kumin, 1989, Penguin Books, USA, ISBN 0 14 058.619 9






going for grapes with
ladder and pail in
the first slashing rain
of September    rain
steeping the dust
in a joyous squelch   the sky
standing up like steam
from a kettle of grapes
at the boil    wild fox grapes
wickedly high    tangled in must
of cobweb and bug spit
going for grapes    year
after year    we two with
ladder and pail stained
with the rain of grapes
our private language









As true as I was born into

my mother’s bed in Germantown,

the Gambrel house in which I grew

stood halfway up a hill, or down

between a convent and a mad house.


The nunnery was white and brown.

In summertime they said the mass

on a side porch, from rocking chairs.

The priest came early on the grass,

back in black rubbers up the stairs

or have I got it wrong? The mass

was from the madhouse and the priest

came with a black bag to his class

and ministered who loved him least.

They shrieked because his needles stung.

They sang for Christ upon His cross.

The plain song and the bedlam hang

on the air and blew across

into the garden where I played.


I saw the sisters’ linen flap

on the clothesline while they prayed

and heard them tell their beads and slap

their injuries. But I have got

the gardens mixed. It must have been

the mad ones who cried out to blot

the frightened sinner from his sin.

The nuns were kind. They gave me cake

and told me lives of saints who died

aflame and silent at the stake

and when I saw their Christ, I cried


where I was born, where I outgrew

my mother’s bed in Germantown.

All the iron truths I knew

Stood halfway up a hill or down.








From a documentary on marsupials I learn

that a pillowcase makes a fine

substitute pouch for an orphaned kangaroo.


I am drawn to such dramas of animal rescue.

They are warm in the throat. I suffer, the critic proclaims,

from an overabundance of maternal genes.


Bring me your fallen fledgling, your bummer lamb,

lead the abused, the starvelings, into my barn.

Advise the hunted deer to leap into my corn.


And had there been a wild child –

filthy and fierce as a ferret, he is called

in one nineteenth-century account –


a wild child to love, it is safe to assume,

given my fireside inked with paw prints,

there would have been room.


Think of the language we two, same and not-same

might have constructed from sign,

scratch, grimace, grunt, vowel:


Laughter our first noun, and our long verb. howl.



from: Nurture, poems by Maxine Kumin, 1989, Penguin Books, USA, ISBN 0 14 058.619 9






How It Is

Shall I say how it is in your clothes?
A month after your death I wear your blue jacket.
The dog at the center of my life recognizes
you've come to visit, he's ecstatic.
In the left pocket, a hole.
In the right, a parking ticket
delivered up last August on Bay State Road.
In my heart, a scatter like milkweed,
a flinging from the pods of the soul.
My skin presses your old outline.
It is hot and dry inside.

I think of the last day of your life,
old friend, how I would unwind it, paste
it together in a different collage,
back from the death car idling in the garage,
back up the stairs, your praying hands unlaced,
reassembling the bits of bread and tuna fish
into a ceremony of sandwich,
running the home movie backward to a space
we could be easy in, a kitchen place
with vodka and ice, our words like living meat.

Dear friend, you have excited crowds
with your example. They swell
like wine bags, straining at your seams.
I will be years gathering up our words,
fishing out letters, snapshots, stains,
leaning my ribs against this durable cloth
to put on the dumb blue blazer of your death.





On being asked to write a poem in memory of Anne Sexton


The elk discards his antlers every spring.

They rebud, they grow, they are growing


an inch a day to form a rococo rack

with a five-foot spread even as we speak:


cartilage at first, covered with velvet;

bendable, tender gristle, yet


destined to ossify, the velvet sloughed off,

hanging in tatters from alders and scrub growth.


No matter how hardened it seems there was pain.

Blood on the snow from rubbing, rubbing, rubbing.


What a heavy candelabrum to be borne

forth, each year more elaborately turned:


the special issues, the prizes in her name.

Above the mantel the late elk’s antlers gleam.



from: Nurture, poems by Maxine Kumin, 1989, Penguin Books, USA, ISBN 0 14 058.619 9









Jesus is with me

on the Blue Grass Parkway going eastbound.

He is with me

on the old Harrodsburg Road coming home.

I am listening

to country gospel music

in the borrowed Subaru.

The gas pedal

and the words

leap to the music.

O throw out the lifeline!

Someone is drifting away.


Flags fly up in my mind

without my knowing

where they’ve been lying furled

and I am happy

living in the sunlight

where Jesus is near.

A man is driving his polled Herefords

across the gleanings of a cornfield

while I am bound for the kingdom of the free.

At the little trestle bridge that has no railing

I see that I won’t have to cross Jordan alone.


Signposts every mile exhort me

to Get Right With God

and I move over.

There’s a neon message blazing

at the crossroad catty-corner to the Burger Queen:

Ye Come With Me.

Is it well with my soul, Jesus? It sounds so easy

to be happy after the sunrise,

to be washed in the crimson flood.


Now I am tailgating

and I read a bumper sticker

on a Ford truck full of Poland Chinas.

It says: Honk If You Know Jesus

and I do it.

My sound blats out for miles

behind the pigsqueal

and it’s catching in the front end,

in the axle,

in the universal joint,

this rich contagion.


We are going down the valley on a hairpin turn,

the swine and me, we’re breakneck in

we’re leaning on

the everlasting arms.








Can it be

I am the only Jew residing in Danville, Kentucky,

looking for matzoh in the Safeway and the A & P?

The Sears Roebuck salesman wrapping my potato masher

advises me to accept Christ as my personal saviour

or else when I die I’ll drop straight down to hell,

but the ladies who come knocking with their pamphlets

say as long as I believe in God that makes us

sisters in Christ. I thank them kindly.


In the county there are thirty-seven churches

and no butcher shop. This could be taken

as a matter of all form and no content.

On the other hand, form can be seen as

an extension of content, I have read that,

up here in the sealed-off wing where my three rooms

are threaded by outdoor steps to the downstairs world.

In the open risers walnut trees are growing.

Sparrows dipped in raspberry juice

come to my one window sill Cardinals

are blood spots before my eyes.

My bed is a narrow canoe with a fringy throw.

Whenever I type it takes to the open sea

and comes back wrong end to.

Every morning the pillows produce tapioca.

I gather it up for a future banquet.


I am leading a meatless life. I keep

my garbage in the refrigerator. Eggshells

potato peels and the rinds of cheeses nest

in the empty sockets of my daily grapefruit.

Every afternoon at five I am comforted

by the carillons of the Baptist church next door.

I let the rock of ages cleave for me on Monday.

Tuesday I am washed in the blood of the lamb.

Bringing in the sheaves on Wednesday keeps me busy.

Thursday’s the day on Christ the solid rock I stand.

The Lord lifts me up to higher ground on Friday so that

Saturday I put my hands in the nail-scarred hands.

Nevertheless, I stay put on the Sabbath. I let

the whiskey bottle say something scurrilous.


Jesus, if you are in all thirty-seven churches,

are you not also here with me

making it alone in my back rooms like a flagpole sitter

slipping my peanut shells and prune pits into the Kelvinator?

Are you not here at nightfall

ticking in the box of the electric blanket?

Lamb, lamb, let me give you honey on your grapefruit

and toast for the birds to eat

out of your damaged hands.








Lexington, Kentucky


The brood mares on the block at Tipton Pavilion

have ears as delicate as wineglass stems.

Their eyes roll up and out like china dolls’.

Dark red petals flutter in their nostrils.

They are a strenuous ballet, the thrust and suck

of those flanks, and meanwhile the bags of foals

joggle, each pushing against its knapsack.


They are brought on one at a time, worked over

in the confines of a chain-link silver tether

by respectful attendants in white jackets

and blackface. The stage manager hovers

in the background with a gleaming shovel

and the air ripens with the droppings he dips up.


In the velvet pews a white-tie congregation

fans itself with the order of the service.

Among them pass the prep-school deacons

in blazers and the emblems of their districts.

Their hymnals are clipboards. The minister

in an Old Testament voice recites

a liturgy of bloodlines. Ladies and Gentlemen:


Hip Number 20 is Rich and Rare

a consistent and highclass producer.

She is now in foal to that good horse, Brazen.

Candy Dish slipped twins on January one

and it is with genuine regret I must announce

that Roundabout, half sister to a champion,

herself a dam of winners, is barren this season.


She is knocked down at eleven thousand dollars

to the man from Paris with a diamond in his tooth,

the man from Paris with a snake eye in his collar.


When money changes hands among men of worth

it is all done with sliding doors and decorum

but snake whips slither behind the curtain.

In the vestry flasks go round. The gavel’s

report is a hollow gunshot:

sold, old lady! and the hot

manure of fear perfumes God’s chapel.







In the Defense Department there is a shop

where scientists sew the eyelids of rabbits open

lest they blink in the scorch of a nuclear drop


and elsewhere dolphins are being taught to defuse

bombs in the mock-up of a harbor and monkeys

learn to perform the simple tasks of draftees.


It is done with electric shocks. Some mice

who have failed their time tests in the maze

now go to the wire unbidden for their jolts.


Implanting electrodes yields rich results:

alley cats turn from predators into prey.

Show them a sparrow and they cower


while the whitewall labs fill up with the feces of fear

where calves whose hearts have been done away

with walk and bleat on plastic pumps.


And what is any of this to the godhead,

these squeals, whines, writhings, unexpected jumps,

whose children burn alive, booby-trap the dead,

lop ears and testicles, core and disembowel?



It all ends at the hole. No words may enter

the house of excrement. We will meet there

as the sphincter of the good Lord opens wide

and He takes us all inside.








Sister Elizabeth Michael

has come to the Writers’ Conference.

She has white habits like a summer sailor

and a black notebook she climbs into nightly

to sway in the hammock of a hundred knotted poems.

She is the youngest nun I  have ever known.


When we go for a walk in the woods

she puts on a dimity apron that teases her boottops.

It is sprigged with blue flowers.

I wear my jeans and sneakers. We are looking

for mushrooms (chanterelles are in season)

to fry and eat with my drinks, her tomato juice.


Wet to the shins with crossing

and recrossing the same glacial brook, a mile

downstream we find them, the little pistols,

denser than bandits among the tree roots.

Forager, she carries the basket.

Her hands are crowded with those tough yellow thumbs.


Hiking back in an unction of our own sweat

she brings up Christ. Christ, that canard!

I grind out a butt and think of the waiting bourbon.

The sun goes down in disappointment.

You can say what you want, she says.

You live as if you believe.



Sister Elizabeth Michael

says we are doing Christ’s work, we two.

She, the rosy girl in a Renoir painting.

I, an old Jew.



The last 5 poems from: Maxine Kumin, House, Bridge, Fountain, Gate, The Viking Press, New York. ISBN 0-670-00592-4









The Christian Science Monitor


Steven Ratiner

Maxine Kumin: New Life in a Barn

Atlantic Unbound


Erin Rogers

The Art of Living

The Seattle Times


Sheila Farr

Grounded in nature, deeply comforting

The New York Times


David Kirby

Afraid of the Dark

Read these articles, here