All of us have known tyrants, perhaps at the office, on the playground or, as in this poem, within a family. Here Long Island poet Gloria...

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All of us have known tyrants, perhaps at the office, on the playground or, as in this poem, within a family. Here Long Island poet Gloria g. Murray portrays an authoritarian mother and her domain. Perhaps you’ve felt the tension in a scene like this.

— Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

every wall

stood at attention

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even the air knew

when to hold its breath

the polished floors

looked up

defying heel marks

the plastic slipcovers

crinkled in discomfort

in my mother’s house

the window shades

flapped

against the glare

of the world

the laughter

crawled like roaches

back into the cracks

even the humans sat —

cardboard cut-outs

around the formica

kitchen table

and with silver knives

sliced and swallowed

their words

Gloria g. Murray

Reprinted from “Poet Lore,” Vol 99, No. 1/2 by permission of the author. Copyright © 2005 by Gloria g. Murray, whose latest book of poetry is “Five A.M. Anxiety.” This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry. “American Life in Poetry” appears Fridays in Northwest Life.