Poetry Sunday: “Getting Close,” by Victoria Redel


Getting Close

Because my mother loved pocketbooks
I come alive at the opening click or close of a metal clasp.

And sometimes, unexpectedly, a faux crocodile handle makes me weep.

Breathy clearing of throat, a smooth arm, heels on pavement, she lingers, sound tattoos.

I go to the thrift store to feel for bobby pins caught in the pocket seam
of a camel hair coat.

I hinge a satin handbag in the crease of my arm. I buy a little change purse with its
curled and fitted snap.

My mother bought this for me. This was my mother’s.

I buy and then I buy and then, another day, I buy something else.

In Paris she had a dog, Bijou, and when they fled Paris in 1942 they left the dog behind.

When my mother died on February 9, 1983, she left me.

Now, thirty years later and I am exactly her age.

I tell my husband I will probably die by the end of today and all day he says, Are you
getting close, Sweetheart? And late in the afternoon, he asks if he should buy enough filet
of sole for two.

From a blue velvet clutch I take out a mirror and behold my lips in the small rectangle.

Put on something nice. Let him splurge and take you out for dinner, my mother whispers
on the glass.


Copyright © 2013 by Victoria Redel. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on June 27, 2013.


Victoria Redel was born in New York City on April 9, 1959, a first-generation American of Belgian, Egyptian, Polish, Romanian, and Russian descent. Redel grew up in New York and later attended Dartmouth College, where she graduated with a degree in visual arts in 1980. She worked as an addiction counselor in hospitals in Greenfield and Concord, Massachusetts, before returning to New York to pursue her MFA in poetry at Columbia University. While there, she sat in on a fiction course taught by writer Gordon Lish, then an editor at Knopf, and began writing fiction as well.

Redel is the author of three books of poetry and five books of fiction. Her poetry collections are Woman Without Umbrella (Four Way Books 2012), available for order hereSwoon (University of Chicago Press 2003), a finalist for the James Laughlin Award; and Already the World (Kent State University Press 1995). A new novel, Before Everything (Viking Penguin 2017), is published in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Turkey, and China. The Border of Truth (Counterpoint 2007), a Barnes and Noble Great New Writers Discovery Selection, weaves the situation of refugees and a daughter’s awakening to the history and secrets of her father’s survival and loss. Loverboy (Graywolf 2001/Harcourt 2002), awarded the Sister Mariella Gable Novel Award, the Forward Silver Literary Fiction Prize, and a Los Angeles Times Best Book Award, was adapted for a feature film directed by Kevin Bacon. Redel’s work has been widely anthologized and translated, and her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in magazines and journals including Granta, Harvard Review, The Quarterly, The Literarian, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, O, the Oprah Magazine, Elle, Bomb, More, and NOON. Redel is on the graduate and undergraduate faculty of Sarah Lawrence College, has taught in the Graduate Writing Programs of Columbia University and Vermont College, and was the McGee Professor at Davidson College. Redel has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment For The Arts, and the Fine Arts Work Center. [Sources: here and here]

Victoria Redel discusses her writing process and how and when her poems begin hereand here.

Listen to her reading her poem “Auspicious Subway,” along with Cleopatra Mathis and John Murillo, here.



Poet’s Note

“Getting Close” was written as I tried to write another poem. My mother often shows up this way, pushing up in the cracks and lapses of other poems. I am always surprised by the way my mother lives in me and how much—30 years after her death—I am still talking to her, inventing her, feeling her shape me.


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