Grace Dunham

Winner of the Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Student Award in 2009

Twin Oaks

Often times, when I used to walk home,
I'd see Mr. Tarlow standing outside his house on Strathmore Road.
He'd be leaning up against his car like he was waiting for  
   something,
Smoking a cigarette in the shade of a Japanese maple.
He wore those tweed jackets with suede elbows.
The kind that makes you look like you know you're important.
The Tarlows had a white station wagon.
On the driver's side, written in gold script,
Were the words: "Twin Oaks."
Someone once told me Glenys Tarlow was from Maine.

Twin Oaks sounded like it was in Maine.
Sometimes I'd see Glenys Tarlow walk across their lawn
And softly enter the passenger's seat of the wagon.
She wore her red hair in a tight chignon.
Once, I saw that it was held in place with a coral pin.

The Tarlows used to live in the city.
Someone told me that their house was decorated with modern  
   furniture.
I imagined Mr. Tarlow sitting in a metal chair,
Setting his drink on a glass table.

They were younger than parents, but too old to not be.
Mr. Tarlow wore black glasses and penny loafers.
"What does he think he is? Some kind of overgrown prep-school
   dropout,"
My father used to say.
"His loafers have holes in them. Someone should remind him
   we're all Jews here."

They grew vegetables in the flowerbed encircling their house.
Sometimes on the way home from Saturday morning services
I'd see them outside gardening together.

Once, I saw them sitting on their lawn with a group of friends.
Two women wearing jeans and a man with long hair.
They were laughing, eating cake,
And Glenys Tarlow had her hand on her husband's thigh.
 
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Matthew Rohrer on Grace Dunham

I remember how being a student and writing poems meant writing poems that no one read. Or that no one read very well; perhaps your parents read them and were proud, which they have to be, or your friends read them and didn't get them, even if they said they did. I want all the students who submitted poems to know that I sat in the sun and read every word each of them wrote, and took each of those words very seriously. It was a great experience. But alas, someone has to win.

I chose "Twin Oaks" because it was unlike any of the other poems I read. It surprised me, but it didn't try to surprise me. It said something profound about the poet's upbring- ing in particular, and culture in general, without talking about that at all. It resisted the temptation to be shocking. It resisted the temptation to be heartbreaking. It resisted the temptation to be funny. Everyone wants to entertain, and yet this poem is almost the opposite of that. It is a portrait, by way of a family that doesn't fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, of the rest of us. I appreciate the attention to detail, no matter how small. I appreciate the economy of the language, the straightforwardness and directness of the voice. I love the last stanza. Without making any of the traditional moves to wrap up a poem, or strike a loud note at the end, this poem ends incredibly well.

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