“After Our Daughter’s Wedding” Ellen Bass

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Poems About Sons & Daughters

Having kids (or, as the cynical might say, “debt drivers”). It isn’t easy, especially for mothers who truly have to have the kids. Physically. Painfully. Emotionally.

But after that, I mean. Through the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the serene and the scary.

In the end, a parent hopes her child will do better than her in every way, and that the world bestowed to the child will be better, too. In the beginning, the parent will kid herself about kids and suppose that it will all go storybook.

Or the opposite. The imaginative parent might worry about the worst that could happen. All those gruesome things you read in the newspaper while saying to yourself, “Oh my God. The depravity of it all.” Depravity = a world overrun by power-hungry, war-mongering despots of every stripe — men (most always) who bring death and ruin on innocent men, women, and children in other countries under some excuse or other (of which they have plenty).

Or a world of crime. Of huge economic disparities. Of disease and hunger.

When it comes to worrying, where does it end? It’s enough to drive a poet to write. Or cry, as Ellen Bass did after her daughter’s marriage.

Think about it. The long and winding road you travel from a baby’s first breath to her marriage. And it doesn’t end there because your baby will always be your baby. Until the day you die, which you pray will be before any child of yours does.

Note the interesting way Ellen describes her emotions in this daughter-driven poem below:


After Our Daughter’s Wedding
Ellen Bass

While the remnants of cake
and half-empty champagne glasses
lay on the lawn like sunbathers lingering
in the slanting light, we left the house guests
and drove to Antonelli’s pond.
On a log by the bank I sat in my flowered dress and cried.
A lone fisherman drifted by, casting his ribbon of light.
“Do you feel like you’ve given her away?” you asked.
But no, it was that she made it
to here, that she didn’t
drown in a well or die
of pneumonia or take the pills.
She wasn’t crushed
under the mammoth wheels of a semi
on highway 17, wasn’t found
lying in the alley
that night after rehearsal
when I got the time wrong.
It’s animal. The egg
not eaten by a weasel. Turtles
crossing the beach, exposed
in the moonlight. And we
have so few to start with.
And that long gestation—
like carrying your soul out in front of you.
All those years of feeding
and watching. The vulnerable hollow
at the back of the neck. Never knowing
what could pick them off—a seagull
swooping down for a clam.
Our most basic imperative:
for them to survive.
And there’s never been a moment
we could count on it.


The poem has ideas about becoming a list poem (the ways things can go wrong), but instead takes a right turn at the philosophical four-way stop (starting with “It’s animal.”). Then come the metaphorical riffs on predator and prey, on Darwin’s cruel world.

Thank goodness animal parents don’t ruminate like this. If they did, nature would be filled with one long dirge.

But that’s the thing about kids. They are adept at inspiring both joy and despair. The opposing forces flourish equally under their skin.

Debt drivers, nothing. They’re poetry drivers as well. Think about it. Then write about it. The poem will be yet another “kid” (I kid you not).