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Poetry Moment: Mary Rohrer-Dann and 'How to say goodbye to this house'

WPSU Poetry Moment Mary Rohrer-Dann
Poet Mary Rohrer-Dann

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 “How to say goodbye to this house” by Mary Rohrer-Dann.

Mary Rohrer-Dann is the author of two books of poetry, including Taking the Long Way Home, from which today’s poem is drawn. A retired professor from Penn State University, Rohrer-Dann paints, hikes, and works with several community organizations, including Ridgelines Language Arts. Rohrer-Dann grew up in Philadelphia and has lived in State College for over thirty years.

Her recent book, Taking the Long Way Home, is structured as a family memoir in poems. Among its several chapters in the life of this family, the book faces the reversal in the roles of parent and child, and we see the poet-speaker caretaking for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease. In today’s poem, “How to say goodbye to this house,” Rohrer-Dann offers a snapshot of an inflection point in this story that will be familiar to many—the packing up of a family house. The poem achieves its emotional depths not through the speaker’s direct reflection on the difficulty of this moment but in the painterly way the poet details the parts of the house and its furnishings being ‘stripped of their history.’ Yet the poem does not resolve toward elegy. Roher-Dann insists on seeing and holding onto what is beautiful, even in the midst of loss.

Here’s—

How to say goodbye to this house

to loved rooms stenciled now with absence?
Scuffs and gouges, stripped of their histories,
just scars needing spackle and paint.

Everything gone but a few odd pieces
of furniture none of us wants.
Easier to wait outside for Goodwill.

No peace comes, only a too-full emptiness.
I pace past the fading azaleas my father planted,
clasp the chimney’s familiar shoulder.

My fingertips graze each wall, read the braille
of sun-heated brick, crumbling grout.
I wish I had prayers, a rosary of thanks.

In the flowering quince, a mourning dove
considers me, her eye a bright bead.
I count four fledglings, pearly grey.

Tonight, I will tell my mother
how their soft cooing
filled the afternoon.

That was “How to say goodbye to this house” by Mary Rohrer-Dann.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with us today.

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