Kjerstin Kauffman, “Conversions”

Kjerstin-451-214x300Kjerstin Kauffman, an ’08 alumna of Hillsdale College with an MFA from Johns Hopkins University, will be teaching a Poetry Workshop at Hillsdale in the fall, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m so looking forward to learning from her and refining my understanding of poetic technique.

She and her husband have three young children, and it seems to me that themes of home, family, and motherhood often emerge in her lovely poetry — as in the piece below. Not only is her work thought-provoking, but her word-craft is lithe, both tight and, at the same time, elegant. Notice her details, her images, her rhymes, her line breaks, her turns of phrase. I admire the dexterity and gracefulness of her poetry, and I hope you will too when you read these intriguing lines.

Conversions, by Kjerstin Anne Kauffman

I know the many souls inside my daughter:
she can change herself to kitten, fox, or otter
sliding down the stairs;
three bears
at once; the beast or belle; a blaze
of butterfly or fiend; headlong ballets

of goblins; an Amazon; a saint.
I’m her mother. It’s my pleasure to acquaint
myself with each of her—
or animal, or fairy-tale queen.
But we’re coming up to Halloween

and recently (last night, in fact)
she startled me. I’d cleared and stacked
the dishes by the sink,
thought I’d drink
some tea; the oven leaked its heat, the kettle
hummed—a quiet scene—when suddenly, Gretel

is who she seemed. There, in the kitchen, she moaned:
divulged an orphaned soul, invisible, alone
in a witch’s cage.
To assuage
such gloom—it seemed impossible. She’d made
a ghost of me, her mother. I was afraid.

But then it was over. I solidified.
And she was, once more, my daughter who cried
because she was tired,
and desired
nothing more than a hug. That a book be read.
I carried her out of the kitchen and put her to bed.


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