Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Marilyn Nelson: "Bali Hai Calls Mama"

As I was putting away the groceries
I'd spent the morning buying
for the week's meals I'd planned
around things the baby could eat,
things my husband would eat,
and things I should eat
because they aren't too fattening,
late on a Saturday afternoon
after flinging my coat on a chair
and wiping the baby's nose
while asking my husband
what he'd fed it for lunch
and whether
the medicine I'd brought for him
had made his cough improve,
wiping the baby's nose again,
checking its diaper,
stepping over the baby
who was reeling to and from
the bottom kitchen drawer
with pots, pans, and plastic cups,
occasionally clutching the hem of my skirt
and whining to be held,
I was half listening for the phone
which never rings for me
to ring for me
and someone's voice to say that
I could forget about handing back
my students' exams which I'd had for a week,
that I was right about The Waste Land,
that I'd been given a raise,
all the time wondering
how my sister was doing,
whatever happened to my old lover(s),
and why my husband wanted
a certain brand of toilet paper;
and wished I hadn't, but I'd bought
another fashion magazine that promised
to make me beautiful by Christmas,
and there wasn't room for the creamed corn
and every time I opened the refrigerator door
the baby rushed to grab whatever was on the bottom shelf
which meant I constantly had to wrestle
jars of its mushy food out of its sticky hands
and I stepped on the baby's hand and the baby was screaming
and I dropped the bag of cake flour I'd bought to make cookies with
and my husband rushed in to find out what was wrong because the baby
was drowning out the sound of the touchdown although I had scooped
it up and was holding it in my arms so its crying was inside
my head like an echo in a barrel and I was running cold water
on its hand while somewhere in the back of my mind wondering what
to say about The Waste Land and whether I could get away with putting
broccoli in a meatloaf when

suddenly through the window
came the wild cry of geese.

"Bali Hai Calls Mama" by Marilyn Nelson, from The Fields of Praise. © Louisiana State University Press, 1997.

Photography credit: Unknown.


  1. I love the reality of this poem. Beautiful and touching.

  2. I do not resonate with the poet calling the baby “it”. The references may elicit the desired effect of seeing “Mama” in an unmindful presence, and the effect on the reader highlights the disconnect tween the here and now and living in the mind

  3. Love that call to Mary Oliver, who wrote "Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine" in "Wild Geese". This so perfectly captures the overwhelm of real life.

    1. Thank you for the remembrance of Mary Oliver's poem "Wild Geese".
      This poem reading added new neural networks in my brain I felt forming :'D


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