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  • On the Back Porch (looking at a poem by Dorianne Laux) by Rebecca Brewster Stevenson


    The cat calls for her dinner. 

    (This is a post about a poem, and these are some of its lines:)

    On the porch I bend and pour 
    brown soy stars into her bowl,
    stroke her dark fur. 

    No. It’s not a poem about a cat, although here at the beginning one might think it is. But with poetry– as with so much else– you have to give it a minute. Wait it out some. There’s more coming.

    It’s not quite night.
    Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.

    See? No more cat.

    Some people don’t like poetry– or they don’t think they do.

    But that’s not you, is it? You like poetry. You do. I mean, you like a party just as much as the next person. You can do loud and noisy, no problem. But you don’t judge. You like quiet people, for example. You’re willing to sit a minute and listen and then find out that the quiet person has something to say.

    Poems are quiet. Mostly. And you like them.

    This is a quiet poem, anyway. See:

    On the Back Porch
    The cat calls for her dinner.
    On the porch I bend and pour 
    brown soy stars into her bowl,
    stroke her dark fur. 
    It’s not quite night. 
    Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.

    A poem, like– somewhat– a person, is an invitation to see something in a new way. And here, the poet is inviting you with her out onto her back porch. She wants to show you something.

    This is just the beginning of the poem. And what– so far– does she want you to see? You can answer that: dusk. The cat and her food. The way the light leaves the sky and the stars begin to come out, those “pinpricks of light” that match, without the poet saying so, the star-shaped food she just a moment ago poured into her cat’s bowl.

    She gives us more:

    Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent
    moon, a pink rag of cloud. 

    Ah, you say. I see, you say. Because you, too, have done this– whether or not you have a cat. You have stepped outside late in the day, when the light is going but still held there by a bit of cloud. “A rag of cloud,” she says. How apt. You have definitely seen clouds like that before. You have stepped outside late in the day, just in time to see that day fading, to know that all of it will soon be closed up in the dark.

    And now, reading this poem (and because our poet is a good one), you are standing on the back porch with the poet. And with me. We are all three standing on the back porch, and we are each of us alone. Except (perhaps?) for the cat.

    It’s quiet out here. The light drains away but is held by cloud, by moon. The stars are coming out.

    The poet says,

    Inside my house are those who love me.

    This is going to be important.

    Inside my house are those who love me.
    My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
    And there’s a man who will lift my hair 
    in his hands, brush it,
    until it throws sparks. 

    Who is in the house behind you? Whom have you left inside? Are there people who love you and know (or don’t) that you have stepped outside for just a minute to pet the cat, say, or look at the moon? Is someone who loves you inside the house and looking at her phone or reading the paper?

    Or maybe you live alone. Or with people who don’t love you. Or with people whom you don’t love. If so, it’s okay: this poem is (also) for you, because anything (everything) can be a metaphor. Stay with me. Our poet has more to say, and so do I.

    Everything is just as I’ve left it.
    Dinner simmers on the stove.
    Glass bowls wait to be filled
    with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
    on the cutting board.

    “Everything is just as I’ve left it,” she says. There’s stillness here, both inside and out. We’ve seen it outside already: the cloud, the faintest stars, the moon. No sign of breeze. Even the cat has disappeared.

    But inside, too, everything is just as she’s left it. And how has she left it? At the edge of ready. Her daughter makes biscuits, the soup is done. It’s time for this family’s supper, just as it was for the cat. Everything inside that house is quiet, waiting for the poet’s return.

    And here you stand, I stand, on the this otherwise empty porch. The world is silent, waiting for night. And behind us, what is waiting? Who– or what– is waiting for you?

    Maybe your dog waits, curled in his bed. Your phone? Your supper. A bowl of peaches on the kitchen table. Your email. A project you have to return to, that has taken too much time already, that you cannot wait to finish but abandoned just for this moment to read this blog post, this poem, to step out onto your back porch and watch nighttime overtake the world.

    Here, the poet stands (we stand) on the porch, and the world– inside and out– waits.

    I want to smell this rich soup, the air
    around me going dark, as stars press
    their simple shapes into the sky,
    I want to stay on the back porch 
    while the world tilts
    toward sleep, until what I love
    misses me, and calls me in. 

    This is a poem about love. And, I believe, about contentment.

    Our poet stands here on her back porch, and what waits for her inside “are those who love me,” she says. Yet she “wants to stay on the back porch….”

    And I’m asking you: do you want to stay on the back porch, too?

    You have things waiting inside for you, just like I do. Maybe they are people who love you, and maybe not: but they are what has been given to you and, for the sake of this poem, this conversation, they are the things you love.

    In my reading, the poem here asks, Are they enough? When you are standing out there and the world is somehow both dusky and radiant, are those metaphorical persons and things– the things you have been given– enough to compel you inside? Or are you– like me– sometimes tempted to the edge of the porch, to the steps, to the cold, damp grass and the woods that line the yard? To the promise of the unknown and different, the new and exciting, the adventure that might look like love but cannot be love, because “inside my house are those who love me” and inside the house is “what I love.”

    Maybe that’s a metaphor for another poem. Or is it?

    I want to stay on the back porch 
    while the world tilts
    toward sleep, until what I love
    misses me, and calls me in. 

    Here’s what I’ve learned and am learning: love calls me in. It’s mine to choose, to turn my back on beautiful moon and rag of cloud, to lawn and woods, to new and different. To go back inside.

    Love returns to love again and again. That’s how it lasts.


    Poem by Dorianne Laux

    Laux, Dorianne. “On the Back Porch.” 365 Poems for Every Occasion, The American Academy of Poets, 2015, 236.


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This is the story of Maddie and Frank Brees, seventeen years into a marriage they’ve crafted with honesty and care. When Maddie is diagnosed with cancer, they discover they’re not as honest as they thought, and the burden of her present illness is compounded by the beliefs and experiences of their pasts.

A work of literary fiction, the novel took me many years to write. It’s a story of marriage and of illness, and also of unvisited grief. It questions what we expect from one another and from God, weighs the significance of adolescent love, and examines the perhaps extraordinary demand of our physical beings on our spiritual selves.

And it’s filled with hope.


Overview of Wait: Thoughts and Practice in Waiting on God.

Waiting might be the most common experience of human existence, but some waits are worse than others. Some are longer; and for some, the stakes seem frighteningly high. Whatever you’re waiting for, chances are you’re not enjoying the wait itself. The whole idea of waiting, after all, means to endure in the hope that things will get better.

Meanwhile, we might glean something from our protracted dissatisfaction, and this work of creative non-fiction explores some possibilities. Initially, I drew from my own family’s very long wait, but soon I was including the experiences of friends as well as stories of waiting in scripture and studies of some art and poetry. The book takes a careful look at different aspects of waiting, offering a perspective that might make your own wait something you are actually grateful for.

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About author
Rebecca Brewster Stevenson

I was born in California, spent two years of my childhood in Japan, and grew up in Pittsburgh. While Long Island’s North Fork, home to my maternal grandparents and parents, will always be my second home, I have lived most of my adult life in Durham, North Carolina, where my husband and I have raised our three children.

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“Most powerfully, Stevenson links the physical to the spiritual, letting Maddie’s breast cancer open her to a spiritual journey, letting the veneration of the Eucharist open space for understanding illness, letting love for the mortal body open space for love of the divine. A gorgeous meditation on broken bodies, fractured faith, and the soul-wrenching path to serenity.”

–Kirkus Reviews