Read “Zooming Mom,” a Poem by Philip Metres


Philip Metres is a poet, author and professor of English literature at John Carroll University in Cleveland. He’s the author of 11 books and has won fellowships from institutions like the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was the inaugural recipient of the George W. Hunt, S.J. Prize for Excellence in Journalism, Arts & Letters given by America Media and the Saint Thomas More Chapel and Center at Yale University and named for Fr. George Hunt, SJ, the longest-tenured editor-in-chief of America magazine.

Metres’ appearance on our AMDG podcast is one of our favorite conversations in the history of the show. The episode includes Phil reading two of his poems plus a wide-ranging discussion with host Mike Jordan Laskey on poetry, language, faith and life.

Metres’ has just published the poetry collection “Fugitive/Refuge” (Copper Canyon Press), which follows the journey of his refugee ancestors — from Lebanon to Mexico to the United States — in a vivid exploration of what it means to long for home. We are sharing, with permission, the poem “Zooming Mom” from the collection, which he describes here:

“Zooming Mom” is a poem for my mom, Kay Metres. She once thought she heard the call to religious life in a convent, but it turned out that another form of faith life awaited in marriage and family. (Good thing for me!) It’s a poem that contains one line from a previous poem to her, written 25 years earlier. Like the nesting dolls, we all contain many previous versions of our selves. May we hold them with love. May they carry us as we carry them.  

Zooming Mom

Your fin-quick gaze
            now swims into view, ex-convent eyes
long uncloistered:

a mother’s face is a lifetime
           of faces, voluminously lined and luminous,
now distracted by this

real time letter. Each flourish
           of your hand blurs its swish, the back-
wash of bytes.

I’ve spent a life emerging
           from my image of you, and now you’ve gone
amniotic. We were born

to each other, mother
           and first child—our heartpumps that rhumba
when thrilled or exhausted,

lungs that seize in cold,
           backs we throw out, lock us in bed for days.
In a poem, I once wrote

if the sky were a voice, it would
           be yours. The years rub it to a fluted rasp,
raspier over the audio

of compressed memory.
            My daughters—reason for this spectral
reunion—crowd the screen,

invisible bits of you
            coiled in them, their binary pool
of ancestral light.

When we watch your eyes,
           we see you looking down to where we must be
looking on your screen,

a frame below the frame of us
           looking down to you. As if a picture turns out
to be a window—

though we’re locked inside
            our distant homes, and the window itself
is what’s raining.

Something in us
            loves this earth, this flesh, but not enough
to cease our flailing

against its faithful
            magnetic pull. Only a day’s drive away, too far
to feel this close.

Today, the headline—
            “A mission to the moon with no return
in mind.” We’re digital

immigrants exiled
            from taste of your breath, the hum your lungs
thrum when you’re happy

to see us, the bird
            -quick movement of you in the room,
and the room in you.

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