This week I offer you two pictures and one poem.

All of us, summer, 2012


When the Children Leave Home


The children are no longer children.

They live far away.

When they leave, so soon, again,

I do the vacuuming.

I pick up the white fluffy polar bear,

take the Pat the Bunny book downstairs

where it will wait

for the sound of the car door in the driveway

in September, two months from now.


The red and green Russian nesting doll we bought in Prague

was just right for our grandson on this visit.

His brow furrowed as he pulled and pushed one balsa wood piece

after another, making the edges of each rosy-cheeked woman smooth.

He clapped when he opened the first Babushka and

when she closed again around the secret

tribe hidden in her breast.


I fold the laundry, caress the sheets, and fluff the pillows,

savoring the poem inside the prose.


Matyoshka Doll purchased in Prague 2009

Matyoshka Doll purchased in Prague 2009

What nesting dolls do you have in your life? Do you connect with this poem?

I don’t write poetry very often. Do you? What kinds of moments make you want to be a poet? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Kathleen Pooler on July 16, 2012 at 10:49 am

    So poignant, Shirley. You touch my mother/grandmother heart. Thank you!

    • shirleyhs on July 16, 2012 at 10:57 am

      Wow, Kathleen, thanks for jump starting the comments section. You must have been ready to read just as I hit “publish.” I’ll have to show my delight with a clap like grandson Owen’s. 🙂

  2. Julie Hamilton on July 16, 2012 at 11:00 am

    So beautiful, and I do relate.

  3. shirleyhs on July 16, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Julie, it’s always fun to approve a new comment from someone I haven’t met before. Thank you!

  4. Kathleen Pooler on July 16, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Life really is about timing,isn’t it,Shirley? Love the image of Owen-like handclaps!

  5. Tina Barbour on July 16, 2012 at 11:38 am

    Beautiful and poignant, Shirley, and you have a lovely family.

    I used to write a lot of poetry, but it’s been a while. It’s a hard thing for me to jump into, to go from prose to poetry. I have to have a certain mindset, a certain quiet. Sometimes reading my old poetry makes me want to write more.

    • shirleyhs on July 16, 2012 at 11:50 am

      Interesting, Tina. Maybe we should look back at older poems, along with our favorite poems. I know that quite a few prose writers start the day by reading a poem. The contemplative space of poetry is a wonderful inspiration. Thanks!

  6. Joy Neumann Landis on July 16, 2012 at 11:53 am

    Lovely, Shirley. I can relate to the doing the ordinary after family is gone, doing routine tasks as I process.

    • shirleyhs on July 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Hi, Joy. Thanks for showing up here! Yes, my first draft has me thinking “on these things” as I do the tasks. But I didn’t have to tell you that. You knew.

  7. Vi Dutcher on July 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    I love this, Shirley! I often write a poem when an event takes place that moves me to my core or ideas roll around in my head that I cannot shake. But even this doesn’t always get me to writing. It’s when a phrase grabs me that I believe would make a great title for the poem I that sit down to write. Sometimes, I don’t get past that title. Other times, I do.

    • shirleyhs on July 16, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Ah, yes. You actually named the process I went through, Vi. I now understand why my mother always used to pout when we said good-bye. 🙂

      I had the line “when the children leave home, I do the laundry” in my head. I think that had such a nice, clean ring to it that I kept going with the list. I actually think I lost something by explaining too much in the beginning, now that I compare the two.

      This is occasional verse in more than one sense. 🙂

  8. Kathleen Friesen on July 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I keep coming back to the “secret tribe hidden in her breast” – a powerful metaphor for the friends and family members who come and go from our physical lives, but remain always, hidden in our hearts.

    I used to enjoy playing for hours with my aunt’s Russian nesting doll. She would tell stories of her family’s emigration from Ukraine. Now I look at that doll on her shelf and remember those times with her.

    I write poetry only occasionally, usually when I am in a particularly reflective frame of mind. However, I’ve been thinking about confluence of poetry and prose based on comments from two persons, who upon reading a prose book stated that the author wrote like a poet. I had not considered that and am re-reading it now with those comments in mind.

    And yes, I too love having wonderful times with guests followed by the quotidian.

    • shirleyhs on July 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm

      Thanks, Kathleen. As usual, you go for the place that holds the biggest metaphor. You must be at least part poet. There is such a thing as lyric prose, and those of us who don’t write poetry regularly can release our love of metaphor through this vehicle.

      Thanks for sharing your historical family connection to the nesting Russian dolls. I wonder how many other readers have these? I’m sure the feelings of your aunt were strong, and I’m glad you are part of her secret tribe.

  9. Joan on July 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Lovely thoughts and words. Sounds like you had a wonderful time.

    I used to write nothing but poetry but lately I only have words for prose.


    • shirleyhs on July 16, 2012 at 2:05 pm

      Hmm. This is interesting, Joan. Do you know what caused you to switch?

  10. Linda Gartz on July 17, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    This is the perfect time of year to write a bittersweet poem like this. So many parents are sending their children off to college for the first time. It all seems to have gone so fast. In 2004, when my eldest left for college, I wrote a piece called “Letting Go,” for my local paper. I had found the small treasures my mother had saved for me from my childhood, and was, at the time, looking through of all my son’s treasures–his handprint gifts, stories, drawings, etc. that I had saved. We grapple with the speed of time, and each holds the the secret of the generations within our own nesting hearts. Lovely to have the nesting dolls for your grandchild.

    • shirleyhs on July 17, 2012 at 4:40 pm

      Linda, you understand so well what I am trying to say here. Thanks for this empathic response.

      I thought of Toy Story III as I picked up the toys. I think the ending of that film is brilliant. The whole thing is actually.

      For years my favorite weekend at Goshen College was the one where families bring their children to college. It was such an honor to stand with them in sacred time.

      Hope you are connecting often and deeply with your own family as we enter another academic year. The little treasures we save get nested into the next generation.

  11. diane on July 18, 2012 at 8:09 am


  12. shirleyhs on July 18, 2012 at 9:16 am

    You know all about the sacred ordinary, Diane. Thanks.

  13. Jo on July 18, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Beautifully written Shirley. It felt like I was right there with you. This releasing gets hard at times, it gets easier as time goes by. When my oldest went to college, I immediately went thru the house picking up her things she’d left scattered all over and put them back where they belonged in her bedroom. About 2 weeks later I opened a drawer in our half bath and a tube of her lipstick came rolling out. I held it and I cried. I’m crying now. It was one of those out of the blue, knock you off your feet moments. The ones that remind us that we love even deeper than we know.

  14. shirleyhs on July 18, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    “We love even deeper than we know.” Oh yes, Jo. Maybe this will be the start (see Vi’s comment above) of a new poem for YOU.

    And it’s the tangible objects that hold these feelings for us when we hold them.

    “No ideas but in things.” W. C. Williams

  15. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on July 18, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Yes for poetry!!! Such a great practice for quiet people who live on the land. A poem for today:

    Praying, by foot, beside streets my car would travel in 5 minutes.

    Smelling, a wild smell that seems more related to the place than to a plant.

    Walking, downhill, envisioning my scapula also dropping down, letting go.

    Hearing, the man at his door swearing, moaning, nnnk, nn.

    Another man holding a cup in one hand looks out his open window, then swooshes down the hill in his car.

    A bell tells me a cat comes near, and I rub her head. Pushing the pavement, going uphill now, through a vale high above a creek. The dog in the road eyes my hat, and I take it off, inviting him to smell.

    Twenty minutes later, back in my own driveway and through my own door, I read my post-prayer-meditation.

    The red bag heated my calendar while I was gone. Now I hang the floppy bottle over my back and feel its warmth on my scapula.

  16. shirleyhs on July 18, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Doloris, I was hoping someone would actually share a poem here. Thank you for sharing yours.

    You made me more aware of where my scapula is. 🙂 I think it lowered while I read your comment. Thank you.

  17. Shirley on July 19, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    I get it. Totally get it. Even though the absences, for me, are only 7 days apart.

    • shirleyhs on July 20, 2012 at 4:12 am

      You do get it, Shirley. Thanks for the comment. Grandmas have a secret society based on this knowledge.

  18. Richard Gilbert on July 24, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Nice, Shirley. I loved Pat the Bunny, and so did our kids. And of course the other classic: Goodnight Moon.

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