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.
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
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
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.
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?