Poet Carolyn Jennings’ New Year’s Poem Letter

Dear Reader,

I received the best ever New Year’s letter; not your usual New Year’s letter, not a “look-what-my-kids-accomplished-and-I’ll-bet-it-makes-you-feel-inadequate” letter, or an “all-the-places-to-which-I-traveled-while-you-were-stuck-in-a-rut” letter, or even a “Bert-had-his-gall-bladder-removed-but-his-gout-is-improving” letter, but poet Carolyn Jennings’ “The Soft Heart of Hard Times” poem letter. An “it-takes-more-than-a-stroke-to-squelch-a-sense-of-humor” well-written letter. With Carolyn’s help, there’s hope for future letters like these.

Carolyn has graciously given me permission to share her poem as my New Year’s gift to you.


When my husband’s mother had a stroke,

much that had once seemed her

was gone. She has learned to walk again—

not fast, not far. She has learned to talk

again—not stories, not  memories.

She no longer whips up batches of fudge

before our visits, doesn’t shop the catalogs

for months before Christmas for the grandkids,

won’t be sewing stockings by hand and can’t zip

together the turkey feast that filled holidays

and the entire dining table, all the leafs added.

Last Christmas my father-in-law helped her to the table

where my husband cut her slice of turkey into bite-size pieces.

We call on Sunday afternoons. Most of the talk

is ours. Her sentences dangle unfinished.

But “thank you” and “wonderful” dance

through almost every line she speaks.

We hear no words of complaint,

despair or fear. The sly humor spawned

during a childhood picking cotton

and raising younger siblings in a four-room

home packed with nine kids

continues today in her laughter weaving

through all conversations, a warm shawl

that stretches from Texas to Colorado.

When family visits, her face lights up

like a Christmas tree. Her playful spirit spins

TV ads and my clumsy attempts to cook in her kitchen

into gentle giggling simmering through the day

like a pot of soup on the burner.

On Mother’s Day when I told her I loved her

and was glad she’s my mother-in-law,

she said, “I’m glad you’re my sister.”

She caught the mistake, paused, couldn’t find

the word “daughter-in-law, but she giggled―

eyes as full of delight as when she years ago hoodwinked me

into decorating for my own birthday surprise―

and she said in her soft Texas drawl,

“Well, whoever you are, I love you too!”

Carolyn Jennings ©2008


Here’s to a painfully poetic 2009!



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January 2009
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Photo Credits: Header - Barbara McNichol, Author - Bernadette Garcia

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