Today's poetry for today's world

Jennifer Richter 


Jennifer Richter’s book Threshold was chosen by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey as winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition; since its publication in 2010, Threshold has been a national  bestseller and was selected by Robert Pinsky as an Oregon Book Award Finalist.  Richter’s work has appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, and A Fierce Brightness: Twenty-five Years of Women’s Poetry.






Photo by Shannon Bedford
To buy Threshold, click the cover. 








where mothers prop themselves, welcoming, waving, mostly waiting. You are a

frame your child passes through, the safest place to stand when the shaking

starts.  You brace yourself.  He draws you like this, arms straight out, too stick-

thin but the hands are perfect, splayed like suns, long fingers, the hands he draws

for you are huge. Thresh, hold: separate the seeds, gather them back.  In his

pictures you all come close to holding hands, though the fingers of your family

never touch; you’re in the middle of all this reaching.



from Threshold (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010)  










One like him on every block, a man

who crouches by his tray of parts: gears,

plugs, bolts, sprockets, cogs, his greasy

jewels displayed on slick black oil.

But this is for the man on Hang Bai Street,

the block before the lake—the man who looked

away when I walked past, who dropped his eyes

to hide the war of scars his body is.

Oh God, so much to fix.  Give him, once

a day at least, a woman at his feet; give him

what it takes to fix her limping bike.

Forgive us all.  Make his next world one

that doesn’t always fall apart around him.


from Threshold (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010)  

“Prayer for the Hanoi Man Who Waits for Breakdowns on His Block”

originally appeared in Whetstone





RECOVERY 6: THE LAST WORD                      




Experts like to point out things that you can’t see.  The woman in a vest, Whale

Watching Spoken Here, hands your son binoculars, aims him at the gray.  The

ocean breathes like a hospital machine.  You’ve come here many times before,

alone; each time, you’ve left discouraged: nothing there.  The experts like to say

Have faith.  You prayed for years your pain would go away; for years, you said

you’re fine and prayed your son believed.  Keep an eye out for the blow, the

woman says.  You turn: your son is watching you.  Has been watching all along,

you realize.  You pull him close, wrap your coat around his back.  The expert

checks her chart and shakes her head.  Too bad, she says.  You just missed the

best time.  She fakes a frown.  You’re done with these people.  You drop your head

and whisper to your son No—she has no idea.  You walk together toward the car,

heads down in the rain like you’re about to dive.  Out there, a mother whale and

her son begin their long swim north today.  You know it will be slow, this mother

leading her new life.  You’ll tell him everything.  Why now? your son will ask and

you’ll say Now the mother’s strong enough.




from Threshold (Southern Illinois University Press, 2010)

“Recovery 6: The Last Word” originally appeared in The Missouri Review





Writer’s Tip: Keep writing.  (Threshold took me more than ten years to write.) 

Keep submitting.  (Before it finally won, Threshold was a finalist in twenty-five

national book contests).  Never give up.




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