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Poetry Moment: 'Dioramas', by Kristin Kovacic

Kristin Kovacic
Kristin Kovacic

This is Poetry Moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet and author Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, author of 20 books, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.

Welcome to Poetry Moment.

I admit it. I’m a bit addicted to walking through museums on cold, winter days, warmed by all that art, science, or history. Turn the corner and there’s another century, another perspective, another invention, another creature. Kristin Kovacic’s poem “Dioramas,” takes place in winter at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. But that’s not the only reason it’s stayed with me. As the poet shows, museums also give us insight into the human experience, or—in the case of today’s poem—into parenting.

Kristin Kovacic is the author of the poetry chapbook, House of Women, in which this poem appears, the essay collection History of My Breath, and the anthology Birth: A Literary Companion.

In addition to preserving the past, museums can foretell the future—or so suggests Kovacic in “Dioramas.” She understands too well the hard lesson of parenting. For her young son eventually to gain his independence, she’ll need to let go. She explains, “The baby boy in this poem is now a 30-year-old man, living a spectacular life in Brooklyn, and who now visits me occasionally in Pittsburgh. His life is his own, and mine has been returned to me, too. I saw this coming when I wrote the poem; even so, it continues to surprise me.”

Here’s “Dioramas” by Kristin Kovacic.  

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-Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh

My son presses his hot palms, lips
against the glass. He is one, and lost
to me on the scrub of the African plain,
the precise teeth of marmot and lynx.
How to keep him from savagery, the tender
licks of animal tongues? We are killing
a long winter afternoon, as we stroll
the dark marble streets of life interrupted,
the elk locked in battle, the lion clinging
by her claws to the Arab courier’s camel.
Every lit world draws him in, takes
ticking seconds of his spectacular childhood.
When we emerge into the faded rushing day
I know that it is gone like all the others
and what I will become for him some day.
A woman in a glass box, interrupted
at some ordinary business, some misery
or pleasure. No longer his mother, but a place
for him to visit, and almost touch,
winter afternoons, out of the elements.

That was “Dioramas” by Kristin Kovacic. Thanks for listening.

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Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.