The music of free verse is easier
than the music of the sonnet. Which is why
I have avoided sonnets
in speaking of my mother—
to make the difficulty louder.
At the Citadel, the military
academy in South Carolina, one teacher
of composition forbid, for years,
the passive voice, calling it
womanly, across the fifties
and then, in the sixties, changed
the accusations he flung at grammatical
offenders to homosexual, though
for the most part, he used the derogatory
My mother was raised in the fifties
by a woman with impeccable manners
in a house full of crosses. On Sundays,
she covered her extremities
with white gloves and black mantillas.
In the picture I have of her
in her going away
outfit, plaid, with a slender belt,
on her wedding day, her expression
marries confidence and disbelief,
looking at a friend, while my father
looks directly at the camera.
I want to look like that.
I loved the alphabet,
when I was a girl.
On the wall of my room,
fairies named after flowers
stood for every letter.
After much deliberation,
I decided to be Fuchsia.
“Ars Poetica: Fuchsia” appears in The Accounts by Katie Peterson © 2013, University of Chicago Press. It has been reprinted with permission from the author and from University of Chicago Press.