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Poetry Moment: Jane Rohrer and 'In the Kitchen Before Dinner'

Poet Jane Rohrer

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “In the Kitchen Before Dinner” by Jane Rohrer.

Jane Rohrer was born in 1928 in Virginia and has lived in Pennsylvania for most of her life, including for decades on a farm in Lancaster County with her husband the painter Warren Rohrer and their children. Since 1981, she has lived in Philadelphia. Of Mennonite background, Rohrer did not begin writing poetry until the 1970s. In 2002, at the age of 74, she published her first book, Life After Death.

To close out this year, I offer Rohrer’s quietly gorgeous lyric poem about an unassuming moment. “In the Kitchen Before Dinner” examines the nature of art, love, and time’s passing. In the poem, the poet-speaker finds herself repeating a practiced gesture, unconsciously stirring and staring out of her kitchen window unto a familiar winter landscape. Rohrer’s carefully arranged details draw the scene in meditative fashion. “In the Kitchen Before Dinner” allows us to hear the music of the rooms we live inside of and see the everyday things that reveal our most profound attachments to place and to our beloved.


In the Kitchen Before Dinner

The winter sky past the feeder,
beyond the wood of straight trees
and the field rising to the ridge,
is unnervingly delicate.
But you are acquainted with the country
and you know poems. You’ve heard this.

Years, years and years, I’ve looked out
from this window, stirring—
straight out of the sun
a cardinal swoops to the feeder,
his sweep, not his shape,
the unstrokable wing of art.
Seeing that,
I want to tell you:
the sun of poems is on the snow
on the slope past the wood
to the pond. What I see at five o’clock.
It marries the music from my living room.
It is not that simple.
I cannot explain it.
Saying that,
I think I cannot ever leave.
I’m grounded by attachment,
I’m rapacious for facts:
That bowl.
His gloves on the chair, holding each other.
These I can explain.

That was “In the Kitchen Before Dinner” by Jane Rohrer.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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