Aha Moment: Mary Karr's "Entering the Kingdom"


Friday, May 10, 2013

Ten years ago, Beth Greenspan put a poem in her wallet that she’s carried ever since. Her son was just on the verge of adolescence, and she was wistful.  “I noticed that his wrists were starting to get thicker, his hands were starting to look bigger. His hand was almost the size of my own hand.”

Her mother saw Mary Karr’s “Entering the Kingdom” published in The New Yorker, clipped it, and sent it to her. “The moment I received it, it was as if someone had given me a map and painted a picture for me of where we were going.”  

(Read the poem below)



As the boys bones lengthened,
and his head and heart enlarged,
his mother one day failed

to see herself in him.
He was a man then, radiating
the innate loneliness of men.

His expression was ever after
beyond her. When near sleep
his features eased towards childhood,

it was brief.
She could only squeeze
his broad shoulder. What could

she teach him
of loss, who now inflicted it
by entering the kingdom

of his own will?

Greenspan still takes the poem out of her wallet and reads it from time to time; her son is now 20, away at college, and she finds it comforting. “As a parent, your job from the minute your child is born is to create an exit ramp away from you. And it’s what has to happen and it’s what every parent wants to have happen, yet at the same time you find that you long for what was.”


Is there a poem, painting, or any other work of art that’s changed your life?
Tell us in a comment below.

Comments [9]

Patricia, from Waterville, Maine

I also clipped "Entering the Kingdom". It pierced my heart.This poem has been on my desk for 10 1/2 years. I have a 54 year old son who is surviving his own will, living in creative ways and an adopted 14 year old son who is at the top of the "exit ramp". I pray he follows the speed limit as he zooms away.

Dec. 03 2014 10:17 AM
M. Gallagher from Succasunna, NJ

As a mother of two small children one of the best times of my day is lying down with them at bedtime until they fall asleep. Almost always I think of this passage descriptive of motherhood, but not written by a mother, nor by a woman. From Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave:

"I never saw my mother, to know her as such, more than four or five times in my life; and each of these times was very short in duration, and at night. She was hired by a Mr. Stewart, who lived about twelve miles from my home. She made her journey to see me in the night, travelling the whole distance on foot after the performance of her day’s work. She was a field hand, and a whipping is the penalty of not being in the field at sunrise, unless a slave has special permission from his or her master to the contrary – a permission from which they seldom get…I do not recollect ever seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was gone. Very little communication ever took place between us."

May. 12 2014 08:06 AM

This is one of my favorites that relates to children/mothers:

"I Love You" - Carl Sandburg
I" love you,"
said a great mother.
"I love you for what you are
knowing so well what you are.
And I love you more yet, child,
deeper yet than ever, child,
for what you are going to be,
knowing so well you are going far,
knowing your great works are ahead,
ahead and beyond,
yonder and far over yet."

May. 10 2014 08:06 AM
annie from Cape Cod

"Your's is the earth"
Our little man will soon be 5
Too young, you say,for this poem
But Mary Carr knows where
Mary Oliver was
Journey ....already
Entering evolving to
Gain and Loss
Two sides of our bright coin

May. 29 2013 12:05 AM
Carol from Maryland

I had tears in my eyes listening to this story. My son, so much a man now, is 26 and lives across the country. If only I could have one day back, when he was a boy and would hold my hand. It's all good as he is living his life as he should, but I feel such a loss.

May. 13 2013 09:31 PM

YES!!! ME TOO!! MAY OLIVER (THE JOURNEY) and how the only life you can save is your own.......

May. 12 2013 04:07 PM

The journey by Mary Oliver changed my life!

May. 11 2013 11:17 PM
Stephen from Washington DC

Perhaps too chauvinistic but the poem IF by Rudyard Kipling holds deep messages for young men and boys and of what life will reveal in the years ahead as they become men. At least to those who "enter the kingdom". I the poem to both my sons as they each came of age. They still remember it. I still read it today:

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

May. 11 2013 10:04 PM

What a beautiful story and poem.

May. 11 2013 05:43 PM

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