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


Friday, May 09, 2014

Mother and Son Mother and Son (Amy Palko/flickr)

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.”

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.”

(Originally aired: May 10, 2013)


→ Is there a poem, painting, or any other work of art that’s changed your life? Tell us in a Comment below, or by e-mail.

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Comments [4]

Lajuana Hilton from Rockville, MD

Years ago, I was a fan of the TV show, Murphy Brown. When the character gave birth to a son, they played the Carole King song (sang by Aretha Franklin) "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman"... I remember thinking that was an odd choice, but whatever. Fast forward to 1995, I gave birth to my first son. About a week later, I was holding him in my rocking chair, and that song came on the radio. I started crying. I understood that song at a level I never had before. To this day, that song makes me emotional.

May. 14 2014 11:43 AM
Susan Widule from Alameda, California

The piece about the Mary Karr poem prompted me to write. If asked I would say that I do not read poetry, however poems regularly find me. I first encountered Galway Kinnell's After Making Love We Hear Footsteps nearly twenty years ago, right after becoming a mother. It is such a beautiful, concrete reflection on the deep, compelling and infathomable mystery of how two people, love and sex give rise to this new person. I notice that when I've read the poem in recent years--now that my youngest is nearly 12-- I am especially moved by being drawn into the sensual intimacy with a toddler. I begin to see that most of my years as a parent are likely to be spent with an overlay of nostalgia. Here is the poem:
After Making Love We Hear Footsteps
Galway Kinnell, 1927
For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.

May. 11 2014 07:38 AM
Gjoko Ruzio

This poem live for me with if and now Mary Karr's

Life is mainly froth and bubble
Two things stand like stone —
Kindness in an other's trouble.
Courage in your own.

Adam Lindsay Gordon

May. 10 2014 03:55 PM
Lisa Martinez from Falls Church, VA

I am a mom of 6 sons. I lost a son 12 years ago in a car accident and now have five with me. Three are teenagers, the oldest is 18. The second just signed with the Marines yesterday and the third, 14, is increasingly becoming more distant. This story made me weep, hard. Thank you though. It was cathartic because it put into words and helped me to understand the depth of my heart now.

May. 10 2014 03:40 PM

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