Search This Blog

Sunday, February 12, 2012


During the three days of New Year's celebration with my inlaws, I started wondering why I had never written about my relationship with them. Certainly it's complicated enough to be interesting, and fraught enough to be emotionally compelling, so right then and there I began a poem. Here it is, almost Valentine's Day, and the poem is not yet done. It's gone through a number of significant structural changes, a mighty struggle to figure out the ending, and is now to the point where I am dithering over word choices in two lines. Then it will be done. I think. But what a long time it has taken; though in fact, it is not all that unusual for me to take that long even when concentrating on a single poem.

While working on this poem, I happened to read Paula Bonnell's charming Airs & Voices (winner of the John Ciardi Prize for Poetry, selected by Mark Jarman, published 2009 BkMk Press), and found this generous poem about inlaws:

Elegy for an Unlikeable Sister-in-Law

It's a relief she can't
hector us any more
And she never listened to us
So there's not that sense
of a conversation interrupted
that has been much of the pain
of other deaths we've known.
There is something we are sorry
for in her lifetime which cannot
be improved by this death.
Maybe there was something
we could have done
even if she had done
little else that what she did.
But it's not that we
mourn for. It's all
the connections not made
that her death
seems to confirm.
Let us pray
not to let this death
grave that in stone.
And one more thing.
Lord, she annoyed us.
But she was ours.

So what other inlaw poems are out there? All I can think of is the book of Ruth in the Old Testament, but surely there must be more. I could check a search engine, but I'd rather just try to remember. I can think of a few elegies by poets about their fathers-in-law, but they were about the lives of the men, not about the relationship between inlaws. Still there must be inlaw poems out there. Anybody out there know any?


Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

I had a complicated relationship with my mother-in-law who complained a lot, but she also tried to be happy. I wrote this poem, but I kept the relationship nebulous on purpose. The line breaks are likely not to work in this comment space, alas. The poem appears in my first chapbook:

Pies in Heaven

She would complain about the taste of pies in heaven.
And I would be that angel, so desperate
to please, bringing her slice after delectable
slice. Crust, light and flaky as clouds;
fillings, sweet and full as ambrosia.
She would find fault with them all,
and I would collapse, crying celestial tears.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. I think you captured some of the same frustration as the Bonnell poem did, and part of my complicated feelings too, the wanting to please, but knowing you can't. Ah, inlaws...