Magdalene by Marie Howe

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Marie Howe Teaches Us How

You meet new old poets in the strangest ways. A “new old” poet is not something found in the oxymoron section of Dewey’s Decimals, but rather an established poet who is new to you (a great name for a consignment store).

My daughter, who likes to gift me poetry, gave me a copy of the new book¬†Magdalene, by Marie Howe for my recent birthday. Ostensibly about the Biblical character, this short book, every poem double-spaced, is more about Marie Howe, mother, and the everyday questions of wonder she gets from her daughter. These questions allow her to contrast the vast questions of life with the simple, quotidian ones of childhood. The chasm is vast–and grist for Howe’s mill.

Here is a poem from Magdalene right up my wheel house (and why I have a domicile for wheels is beyond me). See if you like it, too:


October by Marie Howe


The first cold morning, the little pumpkins lined up at the corner market, and

the girl walks along Hudson Street to school and doesn’t look back.


The old sorrow blows in with the scent of wood smoke

as I walk up the five flights to our apartment and lean hard against


the broken dishwasher so it will run. Then it comes to me: Yes I’ll die,

so will everyone, so has everyone. It’s what we have in common.


And, for a moment, the sorrow ceased, and I saw that it hadn’t been sorrow

after all, but loneliness, and for a few moments, it was gone.


© Magdalene: Poems, W.W. Norton & Co., 2017


The double-spaced couplets, as is. The quotidian subject of seeing a daughter off to school and returning to an empty apartment, as is. And the swallow-me-alive topic of death, as… is? Maybe not.

Thus, the balancing act of these poems. I’m looking forward to Marie Howe’s opus. It is, as they say, in the mail and heading my way, even as I type….