They Don’t Mean To, But They Do

The latest New Yorker has an article on poet Robert Hass. Reading it, I was struck by this excerpt, which follows a passage reflecting on the embarrassment induced by his alcoholic mother.

When we say “mother” in poems,
we usually mean some woman in her late twenties
or early thirties trying to raise a child.
We use this particular noun
to secure the pathos of the child’s point of view
and to hold her responsible.

The sharpness of his childhood is reversed into an acknowledgment of his mother’s own struggles, one that forgives her. It’s a neat trick.

The poem is called Dragonflies Mating and could be found here in its entirety.