Tina Parker

What is a poem made of?

Date of Post: 
Tuesday, December 22, 2015

As the March release of my book Mother May I rolls closer, I am pondering this question often. Many of my poems from the collection are now two-three years old, which makes it easier to step back and take stock. In the case of my poem, "The Monday after Newtown. . . :," it is made from the way an event intersected my life.

Last week marked the anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. In December 2012, our oldest daughter was in pre-K, which is the first year of public schooling in our state. How did the parents in the community do it? How did they send their children to school again? Questions like those ached in me through the months following the shooting. The concept of routine haunted me. I wrote disjointed feelings in my notebook. I wrote what my daughter said as she got ready for school the first Monday after. I read. In particular, I read Rachel Zucker's Museum of Accidents, and I was particularly taken with these lines in the poem "What Dark Thing":

Are you the type of person who, when you hear a child suddenly died--

Say a two and a half-year-old girl with a room full of toys--wants to have another?

Just in case?

The poem I ended up writing months later is longer than many of my poems. It mirrors Rachel Zucker's style in this way, and in the way it pulls from several sources: dialogue, "found" material, memories, and the darkness of the subconscious mind. I'll conclude for now with a part of the poem:


The Monday after Newtown our daughter gets ready for school

“Is there ever a right day,

 I mean you just do it, you know,

get them back to school.”        Peter Muckell, Newtown parent


She goes into her room

Comes out holding a blanket under her chin

Mama look I wanted to surprise you

She drops the blanket and shouts

Purple all purple Mama

She puts her hands to her chest to prompt me           

Purple shirt?                Hands to her knees    

Purple pants?               To her feet      

Purple socks?


We agree to do it

We are the parents

The school sent a letter

Re-establishing routines is a critical part of getting back to normal


Make beds

Start the wash

Fold clothes

She’s not here

She is at school

The phone does not ring


Last night I dreamed                                      the hallway

The principal and counselor                            running

                                                                        after him

stop                             stop                             they would stop him