Mary Ann Samyn


Some even prefer it.
But careful what you set in motion.
And travel is nice, but what of the peony just about to bloom at home?
Sometimes dreams come back.
Or a lost thing is found by praying to Saint Anthony and not trying so hard.
I’d rather not miss the peony.

The sun sets in the trees because where else would it go?
An elegant solution, really.
It’s not always possible or appropriate, but I like to remain calm.
Bound and determined that way.
Virtue is a serious-sounding word that relates to all we’ve been discussing.
And to joy, too.

But too much of anything is a problem.
I remember how my father used to say whoa, fella.
He made errands interesting.
The hardware store had a penny item each week.
The library had a special slot for books we wanted to return.
Even before he died, I asked myself what he would do.

Real suffering impresses.
He liked to say we were making progress.
He called me Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.
I can see why someone might want to hasten death.
Walking now among the roses he planted, I wonder if he had a favorite.
And when he prayed for me, what did he say?

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A little whoosh of air; I’m blown back.
Mistook something for nothing;
nothing for fondness.
Who gets to have a choice?
The prose in the handsome book fell flat.
The little river flooded her banks.
The turtle crossing the road—that old story—
was fine, last I saw…

Not sure if it’s the jack pines or what—
but something quickens­—
old haunts retain their power. Old habits…
Whatever it is, I save half for later.
Girl detectives plan ahead.
Things can’t go on this way forever;
I tell no one.
Same day, someone asks what quotidian means.


My mother looks out from where she went long ago.
Or, I hurry along the corridor of myself.
The plane banks again. And again. We are held by strings or not.
I say my four prayers. I look so quiet.
We’ve got a large population in heaven, my mother says.
Before he was actively dying, my father was still dying.
I used to lay my head upon his chest.
Will there ever be comfort again in this life?
God so loved the world, we are told.
I walk the neighborhood where I left off being a child.
There is nothing doing, save a light breeze.


A train took up the night. A very old scare too.
I woke into it. Bent down to it.

Clipped the spent blossoms because they were there.
It’s no metaphor some landed prettily in the grass…

Did we play where we live now?
My sister wonders aloud. A beautiful corridor opens.

Everything is provisional; this works,
one has to admit. —Just like that, I grow calm.


—like a paper cup.
Some dumb thing.
But so what? Lots more
where that came from.
Sliver of blue morning.
Much is interchangeable, but not this.
And this is nothing
in comparison, I know,
to my father’s 1000 days of let me go.
And now it’s his blue evening
every evening forevermore.
They zipped him in a bag
and wheeled him from the house.
Light snow that night.
The weather saves me daily.
So much else is bullshit. 
He planted these roses
once upon a time
with his bare hands.

Author’s Statement

The peony is blooming; it’s June again, my favorite. Plants know just what to do. This peony is white with a hint of pink. It looks good that way. Peonies are extravagant but, also, measured. Most plants are. They do their thing.

So that’s a thought I have as I read over these poems. “Equanimity” is the oldest. A year later, I’d say, “Crushed” and “Unfinished”; another year (a year ago), “Disruption” and “At the Entrance to It.” I begin with titles, so it seems appropriate to mention them. A title + a first line. A feeling and a question. That’s enough. I go from there.

Then: I look out the window; I look down. Literally. The peony; the weather; my hands in my lap, or a book in my hands, or the cat wanting her due. Then into the past and so much I’m fond of; into the future, which is anybody’s guess. Every day includes all of these, I tell my students, and more. So that’s most of my poems: moment to moment, strung like children’s paintings might be, not yet dry, hung from a clothesline in the art room… I’m not sure about that image, those paintings—it just occurred to me—but I see no reason not to trust it, so I’ll leave it be.

Anyway, I write a line at a time. And by line, I mean music. Syntax is so important here; variation within the mostly end-stopped line.

Sometimes people tell me they want more. (Well, who doesn’t?) Details. Narrative. Back-story. That’s not my thing, really, but I will say in “Equanimity,” the train is in West Virginia; the spent blossoms fell in Michigan. My poems often move like that: moments distant in some ways are close in others. My sister, too, was nearby, and she really did say “Did we play where we live now?” Our father was inside, lying in his bed, post-stroke.

Something similar happens in “Crushed.” The poem begins with that feeling—crushed—which happens in one place and is felt again, and differently understood, elsewhere, in another context. I never will forget the snowy evening my father died.

“Unfinished” also moves in space and time and includes the most awful flight ever, from Albuquerque to Salt Lake City via a quick stop in Boise to refuel, which is, I think you might know, not the normal route. I don’t always have the opportunity to think my thoughts; on that flight, I had no choice.

My poems shift every few years, certainly after a manuscript closes, and “Disruption” is a good example of that. More variable line length; a more conversational music. This seems to be where I’m headed.

That said, I always try to sound like myself. On the page and off. It’s just easier.


I’ve been stuck for a while now at this spot. Was stuck for a long time, too, before the first sentence, way up top. Because I believe the best remedy is just to “write it right in,” that’s why I’m telling you.

Let’s see… what else… well, today I baked a very delicious sour cream chocolate chip coffeecake and used my Mary Ann pan. Yep, that’s a real thing; has a raised edge, fluted. Quite pretty. And I’ve been reading some good things: The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford; A Place in the Country by W.G. Sebald; “The Point” by Charles D’Ambrosio. The first. a novel, had its end in sight for some time, but getting there was astonishing, nonetheless. The second, a book of essays, sometimes loses me, which is precisely why I read Sebald. His paragraphs go on so long. I let my eyes drift over and land, here and there, on phrases that sound good. I enjoy myself. The story by D’Ambrosio came highly recommended and did not disappoint, which is more than you can say about so many things.

I expect some of that, all of it, some version of it, will make its way into a poem or poems.

And just telling you those mundane details… I feel better now; I really do.

So that’s how I do it.

Oh, and the “little whoosh of air”—“At the Entrance to It”—I felt that. The thing to do is write it down, not poem it up.

Anyway, every day, like I said—there’s so much; fortunately, I’ve been a girl detective since forever.

Mary Ann Samyn is the author of six collections of poetry including Air, Light, Dust, Shadow, Distance (42 Miles Press Prize, 2018), My Life in Heaven (FIELD Prize/Oberlin College Press, 2013)Beauty Breaks In (New Issues, 2009); Purr (New Issues, 2005); Inside the Yellow Dress (New Issues, 2001); and Captivity Narrative (The Journal Prize/Ohio State UP, 1999). She received her MA from Ohio University and her MFA from The University of Virginia. She is the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the James Wright Poetry Award from Mid-American Review, and a Pushcart Prize. She is a professor in the MFA program at West Virginia University.