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A Letter to My Mother Who Tells Me Everyone Asks About You, What Should I Tell Them?

by John McKernan

Tell them my sorrows are everywhere.
They flow like railroad ties
From Bangor to Portland.

NO! Do not tell them a thing.
Give them pictures.
And smile. Show them these pictures.

This glossy of me wearing leather
In front of a mirror
Holding a knife and a poem.

Or this snapshot where I hold
A box of long needles
And a wet rope in my hands.


In 1962 Feature Poet James McKernan was expelled from the pre-med program at Creighton University for, in his own words, “drinking and carousing.” Until his expulsion, he had not read or studied a single poem. McKernan went on to the University of Omaha, where he majored variously in History, Philosophy, and English. He received a Graduate Fellowship to the University of Arkansas and did further work in creative writing at Columbia University. In addition to teaching, editing The Little Review and translating from the works of Rimbaud, Horace, Guillevic, and Rilke, he has published several hundred poems in many of the best literary magazines in the country. (1976)

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