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Dana Gioia's "Thanks for Remembering Us"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Dana Gioia

Introduction and Text of “Thanks for Remembering Us”

Dana Gioia’s poem, “Thanks for Remembering Us,” consists of two rimed stanzas. The first stanza offers eight lines with the rime scheme, ABBCCDCD. The second stanza has ten lines but fewer rimes, ABCDAFGDHI. The poem focuses on the mystery of a couple’s receiving a mistaken delivery of flowers.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Thanks for Remembering Us

The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they're not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.

The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can't
throw out a gift we've never owned.

Reading of "Thanks for Remembering Us "

Commentary

California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia's speaker creates a little drama prompted by a mysterious bouquet of flowers being mistakenly delivered to his address.

First Stanza: A Target Missed

The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they're not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.

The speaker begins by revealing that the flowers arrived with “a name that no one knew.” The flowers have been adorning their house for several weeks because they are now “turning bad.” After the flowers first arrived, they made some effort to locate the real target of that delivery, but they found out that their neighbors did not recognize the name of the woman who sent them.

There is no one in the household who has a birthday. The speaker asks, “What shall he do?” And they did all that could, it seems. But the speaker has a nagging feeling that someone ought to be thanked “for the blunder,” thus accounting for the poem’s title. The speaker then adds to the mystery by offering the possibility that one of them is “having an affair.” He says that after that suggestion, they first laugh, but then feel that they are not so sure.

Second Stanza: A Drama of Demise

The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can't
throw out a gift we've never owned.

The speaker then dramatizes the demise of the once lovely bouquet that arrived unbidden. The reader learns that the bouquet was made up of irises, roses, and ferns. Now the iris has died first. The speaker offers a dramatic description of the dead iris: “[t]he iris was the first to die, / enshrouded in its sickly-sweet / and lingering perfume.” Next, the roses die, each petal falls one at a time. Perhaps the roses were also “enshrouded” in their “perfume.” The speaker appropriately leaves that olfactory image to the reader’s imagination, after having suggested it with the smell of the iris.

The speaker then claims that the “room smells like a funeral.” The funeral home where the deceased awaits the funeral service is usually adorned with many flowers that are pleasing to the eye as well as the nose. But the juxtaposition of the funeral home and this couple’s residential home is rather jarring, adding to the mystery and the jolt that this mistaken delivery has imposed on the household. The speaker reports that the flowers continue to sit on their table looking, “too much at home.” He discerns that they seem to give off an accusing air of “some small crime.” He knows, however, that neither he nor his wife has committed any crimes. They cannot be held accountable for the blunder that caused the flowers to be mistakenly delivered to their address.

They could have thrown them out as soon as they arrived, or after they could not locate the correct recipient; however, they chose to retain them and allow them add beauty to their home. The final thought that the speaker is left with is, “we can't / throw out a gift we've never owned.” They have, with reservations, enjoyed the bouquet, even though they have known all along they did not deserve it, because it was intended for someone else, and they will probably never know who that is.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes