I Wore This Dress Today for You, Mom

  • Review
By – August 28, 2023

Many Amer­i­can Jews are unaf­fil­i­at­ed with Judaism. Some do not observe Jew­ish rit­u­als in any reg­u­lar way; oth­ers might not wor­ship at all. And yet Jew­ish­ness still per­vades their lives: in food, in atti­tude, in ways of speak­ing, and — of course — in that wry sense of humor that is marked by self-dep­re­ca­tion and a slight satir­i­cal impulse. What con­tem­po­rary poet speaks for those of us who do not know Yid­dish or Hebrew, who do not attend ser­vices, who eat BLTs, and who might even go shop­ping on Yom Kippur? 

Enter poet Kim Dow­er, whose lat­est poet­ry col­lec­tion is a Jew­ish­ly infused valen­tine to her moth­er, to all moth­ers, and to every­one who has a mother.” 

Ground­ed in an ear­ly mem­o­ry that func­tions as a warn­ing — Don’t get used to this” — the title poem describes a Jew­ish iden­ti­ty that is almost assim­i­lat­ed but that nonethe­less pro­claims itself:

East­er Sun­day, and you always liked


to get dressed, go to brunch, maybe

there’s a good movie play­ing somewhere?

Wrong reli­gion, we were not churchgoers,


but New York­ers who under­stood the value

of a parade down 5th Avenue …

The tone of Dower’s poems run the gamut between that open­ing admo­ni­tion and that glee­ful­ly Jew­ish East­er cel­e­bra­tion. They both cau­tion and cel­e­brate: In one poem, the speak­er warns her son that demen­tia runs in the fam­i­ly; in anoth­er, she rem­i­nisces about a Russ­ian grandmother’s house, which smelled of gar­lic, chick­en fat, and boiled secrets. In oth­ers, she enu­mer­ates the tastes and fra­grances of past ances­tors and con­tem­po­rary expe­ri­ences. In Hands,” for exam­ple, Dow­er mourns her mother’s decline and death, pen­ning ele­giac lines that fill the read­er with for­lorn joy:

I think about her hands

at the end, in the home, how she would

put them over mine and squeeze,

How I let her keep them there. 

The search for God is also sneak­i­ly present in these poems. The divine appears in the speaker’s poems about her son, but more often in com­i­cal spaces, as when she con­tem­plates her mus­tard-drenched hot­dog and prays for — and gets — a home run at a base­ball game. And, in a man­ner at once droll and sweet, Dow­er pro­duces a remark­able vision of her moth­er bak­ing sug­ar cook­ies in Heaven:

They have you baking

right away so you’ll feel useful

we deliv­er the cookies

to chil­dren who’ve passed


The peo­ple in charge of Heaven 

sound so thought­ful, I tell her.

Well, they’re angels, 

she says …


but they all talk way too much

and their asses 

are huge. 

Sur­pris­ing­ly com­pli­cat­ed, these poems entreat us to pay atten­tion to the peo­ple we love, and to cre­ate sit­u­a­tions in which we our­selves may be remem­bered lov­ing­ly and poetically.

Discussion Questions