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The Accounts

The death of a mother alters forever a family’s story of itself. Indeed, it taxes the ability of a family to tell that story at all. The Accounts narrates the struggle to speak with any clear understanding in the wake of that loss. The title poem attempts three explanations of the departure of a life from the earth—a physical account, a psychological account, and a spiritual account. It is embedded in a long narrative sequence that tries to state plainly the facts of the last days of the mother’s life, in a room that formerly housed a television, next to a California backyard. The visual focus of that sequence, a robin’s nest, poised above the family home, sings in a kind of lament, giving its own version of ways we can see the transformation of the dying into the dead. In other poems, called “Arguments,” two voices exchange uncertain truths about subjects as high as heaven and as low as crime. Grief is a problem that cannot be solved by thinking, but that doesn’t stop the mind, which relentlessly carries on, trying in vain to settle its accounts. The death of a well-loved person creates a debt that can never be repaid. It reminds the living of our own psychological debts to each other, and to the dead. In this sense, the death of this particular mother and the transformation of this particular family are evocative of a greater struggle against any changing reality, and the loss of all beautiful and passing forms of order.

104 pages | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2013

Phoenix Poets



“In her third collection, Peterson confronts a mother’s death and earthly loss. With consistent measure and emotional depth, she creates a coherent world in miniature that mirrors the ever-shortening time frame of life. In one especially innovative sequence, alternating lines collapse into stanzas, recreating the finitude of mortality. Throughout the book, objects find fibrous, sinewy forms, things hewn and woven, lashed together like spirit to body. The speaker in ‘From the Nest’ watches a patient struggle to ‘turn the sounds / the sick mouth makes / into prayer.’ But also the shapes of new life rise—clawed feet, extra leaves, trellised limbs that terminate in the small hands of branches. Elsewhere, Peterson turns to the language of backyard gardening and tending nettles. Likewise, those familiar, refulgent faces, ‘the moon’s / deckle edge’ and the red sun, all ‘rust and blush and sunset, shining.’”

Diego Báez | Booklist

“Stark, smart, funereal, terrifying at times. . . . Peterson’s is a careful, serious poetry, difficult in the way that real life is difficult, but clear and chilly as a long-held regret.”

Publishers Weekly

“Katie Peterson’s impressive poems belong to the school of omission and inference. ‘I didn’t come here to make speeches,’ she says in her poem ‘Earth,’ yet the poems in The Accounts fill you with wonder at what is not being said so skillfully. ‘Pockets of silence,’ they are called, and they contain precise measurements of feeling and thought. In their quiet complexity, Peterson’s accounts involve and entrap the reader in serious conversation.”

Tony Hoagland

“The narrator of Katie Peterson’s book The Accounts has strayed into a myth in which no guiding figures remain, and with no way to prove or save herself. Who knew the complexity of grief could be drawn with such shocking simplicity and masterful depth?”

Mary Kinzie

“As the title of this brilliant book suggests, Katie Peterson prizes the plural, the multiple, the still to be said. That earth has given her, as it has given each of us, one story, a story that ends, is the source not only of her outrage but also of her patience: sentences that enact the work of thinking and feeling as if never to end. At the center of this labyrinth, a mother’s death, a daughter’s grief.   ‘Do not ask what has been lost,’ says Katie Peterson, ‘ask what changed.’ To read The Accounts is to be changed in turn, to require what the author of these hauntingly intelligent poems will say next.”

James Longenbach

“Recently, I’ve been inspired by Katie Peterson’s collection of poems, The Accounts. It’s a sober, psychologically delicate work. Peterson endows apparently commonplace observations with immense symbolic resonance and emotional power: it’s an art of strategic understatement.”

Rosanna Warren | Poetry Foundation

"Peterson mindfully documents grief’s intricacies from unexpected angles. . . . Peterson’s music isn’t easy; or rather, it isn’t simple. It’s rich, well-conceived, and reveals its maker as one of great integrity and intelligence."

West Branch

Table of Contents



Argument about Heaven
Sore Throat
Argument about Appetite
The Replacement
When Fruit and Flowers Hung Thick Falling
Allied Arts
Argument about the Beginning


The Garden
A Potter
From the Nest
The Accounts
The Body


I Am the Middle
From This House That House
Argument about Silence
Argument about Responsibility
Ars Poetica: Fuchsia


Amer. Academy & Inst. of Arts & Letters: American Academy of Arts and Letters Award

University of North Texas: UNT Rilke Prize

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