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By Marilyn Nelson

Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch,

are bickering. The eldest has come home

with new truths she can hardly wait to teach.


She lectures them: the younger daughters search

the sky, elbow each other’s ribs, and groan.

Five daughters, in the slant light on the porch


and blue-sprigged dresses, like a stand of birch

saplings whose leaves are going yellow-brown

with new truths. They can hardly wait to teach,


themselves, to be called “Ma’am,” to march

high-heeled across the hanging bridge to town.

Five daughters. In the slant light on the porch


Pomp lowers his paper for a while, to watch

the beauties he’s begotten with his Ann:

these new truths they can hardly wait to teach.


The eldest sniffs, “A lady doesn’t scratch.”

The third snorts back, “Knock, knock: nobody home.”

The fourth concedes, “Well, maybe not in church . . . “

Five daughters in the slant light on the porch.


Poem copyright ©1990 by Marilyn Nelson, “Daughters 1900,” from The Homeplace, (Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1990). Poem reprinted by permission of Marilyn Nelson and the publisher.

Poet Bio

Marilyn Nelson
Accomplished poet, children’s verse author, and translator Marilyn Nelson was born in Cleveland, Ohio into a military family. She is the daughter of one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen, and her mother was a teacher. She spent much of her youth living on different military bases and began writing poetry when in elementary school. Her poetry carries with it a unique perspective on the United States military and its families. In addition to teaching at the University of Connecticut, Nelson also teaches at the University of Delaware and has taught poetry at West Point. See More By This Poet

More By This Poet