She spends days rummaging
in that big black purse,
as if she's poking into dark
water, and coming up
with Kleenex, a wallet, I.D.s
she doesn't recognize.
She keeps finding and finding
the silver key marked
with red nail polish
so that she knows it goes
to the front door. Each time
she says, I'll have to mark
the front door key. All day,
she fingers the few small,
shiny things she's dredged:
freshman year, when the boys
elected her most popular
Radcliffe girl; her wedding day
and the rabbi's fishy eyes.
She worries odds and ends
to luster: a single earring;
a broken hearing aid; Anna,
Alex, Elad and those other two
great grandchildren whose names
she sometimes knows. She drags
the bag everywhere, even
as it empties of all but a few
glimmers, slippery to catch.

Susan Cohen
Throat Singing


Susan Cohen


what it means

 An old woman who has lost a lot of memory rummages through her purse.

The purse is a metaphor for her memory and she has trouble finding anything in it.

Memory can glimmer, and it can be slippery to catch.

why I like it

I think this poem treats a difficult and painful subject--aging and memory loss--gracefully.  The woman's experience both in what she can find, and can't, comes to life for me.  I believe this character and care about her.


I like how finding and finding really means losing her ability to hold on to objects and memories.  Nice tension between what is spoken and what is understood.

I love the turn in this poem.  It's all in one small setting--a woman going through her purse and then suddenly the shiny things are her past and we are time shifting fast through young adulthood back into old age.