By Peggy Shumaker

The morning I was born
                       you held my hand.

The morning you died
                       I held your hand.

What’s left
                       to forgive?

Today’s poem appears in Gnawed Bones (Red Hen Press, 2010), and appears here today with permission from the poet.

Peggy Shumaker is Alaska State Writer Laureate. Her most recent book of poems is Gnawed Bones. Her lyrical memoir is Just Breathe Normally. She’s at work on Toucan Nest, a book of poems set in Costa Rica. Professor emerita from University of Alaska Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop. She is founding editor of Boreal Books, publishers of fine art and literature from Alaska. She edits the Alaska Literary Series at University of Alaska Press.

Editor’s Note: I recently had the extreme pleasure of seeing Peggy Shumaker read with Amber Flora Thomas and Li-Young Lee at New York’s Poets House, at an event sponsored by Red Hen Press. It was one of the most moving and charged readings I’ve attended, and Peggy Shumaker delivered a deliberate, thoughtful performance. Today’s poem was recited from memory—Shumaker’s eyes locked with the audience—and tears ran down my cheeks.

On my way into the world, my father held me. On his way out, I held him. This was a gift. Being a reader and writer of poems is also a gift; an entry into shared experience, an outlet for the personal.

Want to see more by Peggy Shumaker?
Peggy Shumaker Official Website
Purchase Gnawed Bones from Red Hen Press
Read, Watch, and Listen to Peggy’s work online


  1. He was blessed by your entry…the movie made manifest. And you—by a life connected in great love–the holding of his hand upon the ascent into higher realms.


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