A collection of poems on aspects of leaving: a wife and mother leaving a family home, where a husband adjusts to becoming a single parent, and children growing up and leaving for university. “Absent” begins, “I understand why/ our children are worried./ They have not been to school,/ and you won’t get out of bed.” It ends,
“My heart runs slow as
our children sleep.
They have not been to school
and my heart runs slow as
I understand why.”
The pantoum structure enables the poet to circle around his subject, not reaching a full understanding but each repeated line takes on a slightly different meaning. Initially that the children haven’t been to school is an irritation, until the narrator understands they are concerned for their mother, when relief that the girls are asleep becomes a sorrow that the girls are coping with something beyond their understanding. Once the mother has left, the man considers, “How a Man Might Become a Mother”,
“Forget familiar work, and weave
instead a spell from supper
and bed-time stories
to soften fear
and calm the winds that
howl around this house at night.”
It’s an acknowledgement that parents can’t fully protect their children – the “winds that howl around this house” – but can offer sanctuary and become, “Signs That a House is a Home”,
“The sound of rain is exciting.
You don’t worry about tomorrow.
You don’t feel alone.”
The theme of finding strength in a family and creating a safe place for children, even those who grow up and leave, to return to is as strong as the notion of leaving. The poems benefit from a programmer’s precision with language, but also offer texture and an openness of interpretation. The start in personal experience but open out into a universal concern: the effect on children of a parent’s absence and a desire to ensure home feels welcome. For all its apparent lightness, “About Leaving”, probes the intense experience of loss and recovery with honesty and concern.