Marie Howe is the author of The Good Thief, selected for the National Poetry Series, and What the Living Do, named one of the five best books of poetry published in l997 by Publishers Weekly. She is also the editor, with Michael Klein, of In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. She has been the recipient of the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poet Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Mary Ingram Bunting fellowship from Radcliffe College, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Artist Foundation, and the Guggenheim. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Agni, Harvard Review, and New England Review, among others.

Two Poems by Marie Howe

What the Angels Left

At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occured to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

--exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.

[Reprinted from The Good Thief (Persea Books, 1988)]


Someone or something is leaning close to me now
trying to tell me the one true story of my life:

one note,
low as a bass drum, beaten over and over:

It’s beginning summer,
and the man I love has forgotten my smell

the cries I made when he touched me, and my laughter
when he picked me up

and carried me, still laughing, and laid me down,
among the scattered daffodils on the dining room table.

And Jane is dead,
                                        and I want to go where she went,
where my brother went,

and whoever it is that whispered to me

when I was a child in my father’s bed is come back now:
and I can’t stop hearing
                                                     This is the way it is,
the way it always was and will be—

beaten over and over—panicking in street comers,
or crouched in the back of taxicabs,

afraid I’ll cry out in jammed traffic, and no one will know me
or know where to bring me

                                        There it is, I almost remember,
another story:

It runs along this one like a brook beside a train.
The sparrow knows it, the grass rises with it.

The wind moves through the highest tree branches without
seeming to hurt them.

Tell me.
Who was I when I used to call your name?

[Reprinted from What the Living Do (W. W. Norton & Company, 1999)]