The word “family” conjures up a series of images and emotions. Many times we can look at family with feelings of warmth, love, happiness, and safety. Just as many times, however, family can bring up pain and frustration and flat out trauma. Families are as complicated as the individuals that make them up.
The thing with families are we don’t get to pick which ones we belong to. We walk around with their DNA trying to define who we are. Who do we look like? Are we really just like our mothers? Do we really have Grandpa Owen’s long nose? Or ear for music? Or taste for wine? For too much wine? Is our optimism from our father? Do I get my anger and insecurity from my mother? All questions that a lot of us cary throughout our day, sometimes we can answer them, sometimes we can’t.
We can belong to a unit that exudes happiness and safety, but we all still have our monsters. Our family members get the backstage view of our lives. They see the best and worst in us. What better art form can we find that examines the complicated nature of family than poems about family?
Please enjoy this sampling of poems about family.
Hanif Abdurraqib “The Crown Ain’t Worth Much”
Michael J. Burt “We are Family”
Ogden Nash “Family Court”
Kwame Davis “Way Seeing”
William Wordsworth “My Sister”
Mary Oliver “The Son”
Nicole M O’Neal “A Family is Like a Circle”
A family is like a circle.
The connection never ends,
and even if at times it breaks,
in time it always mends.
A family is like the stars.
Somehow they’re always there.
Families are those who help,
who support and always care.
A family is like a book.
The ending’s never clear,
but through the pages of the book,
their love is always near.
A family is many things.
With endless words that show
who they are and what they do
and how they teach you so you know.
But don’t be weary if it’s broken
or if through time it’s been so worn.
Families are like that—
they’re split up and always torn.
But even if this happens,
your family will always be.
They help define just who you are
and will be a part of you eternally.
Ray Young Bear “First Place in my Life”
Eve L. Ewing “The Train Speaks”
Clint Smith “FaceTime”
On another night
in a hotel
in a room
in a city
flanked by all
that is unfamiliar
I am able to move
my finger along
a glass screen
& in seconds
see your mother
smiling in a room
that is our own
that is now so
far away but
also not so far
away at all
& she can place
the small screen
near her belly
& when I speak
I can see you
her skin as if you
knew that this
& what a small
joy it is to be some-
where that is not
with you but to
still be with you
& see your feet
her rib cage like
you knew we’d
both be dancing
George Eliot “Brother and Sister”
Lisa Furmanski “The History of Mothers of Sons”
Jay Musa “My Mother’s Hips”
Robin Coste Lewis “Summer”
Last summer, two discrete young snakes left their skin
on my small porch, two mornings in a row. Being
postmodern now, I pretended as if I did not see
them, nor understand what I knew to be circling
inside me. Instead, every hour I told my son
to stop with his incessant back-chat. I peeled
a banana. And cursed God—His arrogance,
His gall—to still expect our devotion
after creating love. And mosquitoes. I showed
my son the papery dead skins so he could
know, too, what it feels like when something shows up
at your door—twice—telling you what you already know.
Kim Addonoizio “In Dreams”
Natalie Diaz “It was the Animals”
Chen Chen “I Invite My Parents to a Dinnerparty”
Yi-Young Lee “Three Words”
Ruth Stone “Pokeberries”
I started out in the Virginia mountains
with my grandma’s pansy bed
and my Aunt Maud’s dandelion wine.
We lived on greens and back-fat and biscuits.
My Aunt Maud scrubbed right through the linoleum.
My daddy was a Northerner who played drums
and chewed tobacco and gambled.
He married my mama on the rebound.
Who would want an ignorant hill girl with red hair?
They took a Pullman up to Indianapolis
and someone stole my daddy’s wallet.
My whole life has been stained with pokeberries.
No man seemed right for me. I was awkward
until I found a good wood-burning stove.
There is no use asking what it means.
With my first piece of ready cash I bought my own
place in Vermont; kerosene lamps, dirt road.
I’m sticking here like a porcupine up a tree.
Like the one our neighbor shot. Its bones and skin
hung there for three years in the orchard.
No amount of knowledge can shake my grandma out of me;
or my Aunt Maud; or my mama, who didn’t just bite an apple
with her big white teeth. She split it in two.
Victor Hernandez Cruz “Childhood in the Latin Caribbean”
Maya Angelou “Human Family”
Jon Yao “Music from Childhood”
Michael Luis Medrano “Poem for my Teo One Week After His Release”
What are your favorite poems about family?