Original poem reprinted online here: "How to Tell Your Mother There Will Be No Grandkids In Her Future" by Ira Sukrungruang
Originally read: August 10, 2013
More information about the Poet: Ira Sukrungruang
This poem has a very strong commanding tone with the majority of lines starting out with the verb "tell." But who is the speaker commanding? This poem humor comes from the speaker trying to urge and plan his way into telling his mom.
The first three lines come off as firm directions, "Don't enter conversations / about generations. Use the art / of misdirection." The humor here is the reference to a magician or a military tactician -- or both, really, when telling a mom that there will be no grandkids. Furthermore, the speaker uses the line as a jumping off point on what other conversations could be implemented.
"Tell her the rain / is falling." Here's a reference to the current situation, not the future. "Tell her today / you saw a cardinal, / her favorite bird," once again the present situation mixed in past reference to please the mother, but, "and it was / feeding its young seeds." Here the grammatical effect is pretty weird but interesting, yes, the mother is feeding seeds to the young, but another way of looking at the line is the absence of the object. In this sense, the speaker is feeding "young seeds" to whom?
But this line of thought goes away with, "No. Better not mention / the young," So the shift continues with a mention of a garden which implicitly talks about the young, "the tulips have multiplied, / their buds like hands in prayer." And with each shift of the actual, the speaker becomes viewed in a different light.
tell her about the work
crying in your brief case.
Tell her you wish
you had three lives:
one for work, one for your dreams,
and one for her.
So these are the last two sentences which has the verb "tell" (more or less) in the beginning of the sentence. Here, the focus shifts from external "misdirection" to self misdirection. Technically, there is no focus, so what is there to blame. Work? Her Dreams? Inability to please her? Here the speaker is stating being busy as the implicit reason for not having grandkids -- a third party to blame.
Then the poem turns to a dream like state where the idea of grandkids turns to the fantastical, "Siamese warriors / as she wants, swinging on a tree" And again pay attention to the verbs, "they listen, those warriors."
So the last two lines, "They wait for her to emerge / from the jeweled temple" is a little riff on the mother who, is implied, to have the demands of grandkids. But the true trick behind this poem is that the majority of the commands, dreams, and lines are constructs of the speaker.
It is telling your mother about not having grandkids, but it's also telling the self about not having kids -- which is not addressed in the poem, but implicitly glossed over then lamented.