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American Life in Poetry: Column 347

My mother and her sisters were experts at using faint praise, and “Bless her heart” was a very useful tool for them. Richard Newman, of St. Louis, does a great job here of showing us how far that praise can be stretched.

Bless Their Hearts
At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say

whatever you want about them and it’s OK.

My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids’
toys—they’re only one and three years old!

I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned

into a sentimental old fool. He gets

weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting

on our voice mail.
Before our Steakburgers came

someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,

then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts

of the entire anthropology department.

We bestowed blessings on many a heart

that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.

Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting

much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.

In a week it would be Thanksgiving,

and we would each sit with our respective

families, counting our blessings and blessing

the hearts of family members as only family

does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please

bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Richard Newman from his most recent book of poetry, Domestic Fugues, Steel Toe Books, 2009. Reprinted by permission of Richard Newman. Introduction copyright © 2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.