BEYOND WORDS, THIS LANGUAGE
By Peggy Shumaker
The morning I was born
you held my hand.
The morning you died
I held your hand.
Peggy Shumaker is Alaska State Writer Laureate. Her most recent book of poems is Gnawed Bones. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. She’s at work on Toucan Nest, a book of poems set in Costa Rica. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop. She is founding editor of Boreal Books, publishers of fine art and literature from Alaska. She edits the Alaska Literary Series at University of Alaska Press.
Editor’s Note: I recently had the extreme pleasure of seeing Peggy Shumaker read with Amber Flora Thomas and Li-Young Lee at New York’s Poets House, at an event sponsored by Red Hen Press. It was one of the most moving and charged readings I’ve attended, and Peggy Shumaker delivered a deliberate, thoughtful performance. Today’s poem was recited from memory—Shumaker’s eyes locked with the audience—and tears ran down my cheeks.
On my way into the world, my father held me. On his way out, I held him. This was a gift. Being a reader and writer of poems is also a gift; an entry into shared experience, an outlet for the personal.