Learning By Heart
by Laura Foley

I was seven, couldn’t sleep,
fearing my French teacher,
afraid I couldn’t learn
a line I had to memorize.

Mom, trilling the night’s
loneliest hour, at the piano,
made up a lilting song,
to help me remember—

I did, and still do,
her voice etched in tenderness,
fingers running over the keys,
somewhere deep inside me.

Published in Why I Never Finished My Dissertation (Headmistress Press).

PAINTING: Woman at the Piano by Henri Matisse (1924).

barbara 1

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I really do still remember the line I had to memorize. It was: “Une etudiante n’est pas attentive, elle est un peu bavarde.” Throughout her life, my mother, Barbara, was a warm, bubbly, inviting presence. I am so happy to conjure her again, and share her, on the page and in the heart.

PHOTO: The author’s mother, Barbara Ball Cosden, on a friend’s yacht in the Caribbean (1968).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Foley is the author of eight poetry collections. Everything We Need: Poems from El Camino was released, in winter 2022. Why I Never Finished My Dissertation received a starred Kirkus Review, was among their top poetry books of 2019, and won an Eric Hoffer Award. Her collection It’s This is forthcoming from Fernwood Press. Her poems have won numerous awards, and national recognition—read frequently by Garrison Keillor on The Writers Almanac and appearing in Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. Laura lives with her wife, Clara Gimenez, among the hills of Vermont. Visit her at laurafoley.net.