Whose Mouth Do I Speak With Poem by Suzanne Rancourt Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


In “Whose Mouth Do I Speak With” by Suzanne Rancourt, the narrator describes their cherished recollections of their father in a tone of adoration. The poem evokes nostalgia and warmth as it digs into the speaker’s childhood recollections, which revolve around a simple yet meaningful experience like eating spruce gum. The poet depicts a kind and dedicated father working in the woods and bringing these golden pieces of pitch home for his kids through beautiful imagery. The poem perfectly expresses a modest upbringing and the happiness that may be found in even the tiniest acts. As we move down the lines, we are taken back in time to a period when store-bought luxury was not a possibility, but family love and ties were strong. 

About the poet

Suzanne S. Rancourt (born 1959) is a poet who served in the United States Marine Corps and the United States Army. She published a book of poetry titled Billboard in the Clouds, which was honored with the 2001 Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas First Book Award. Additionally, literary magazines Callaloo and The Cimarron Review have included her writing. She holds master’s degrees in poetry from Vermont College and educational psychology from University at Albany, both in New York State. She is a singer/songwriter, personal fitness trainer, percussionist, herbal educator, and dance instructor, and has worked as a counselor for TBI in New York. She is now residing in Hadley, New York.


Line 1-7

I can remember my father bringing home spruce gum.

He worked in the woods and filled his pockets

with golden chunks of pitch.

For his children

he provided this special sacrament

and we'd gather at this feet, around his legs,

bumping his lunchbox, and his empty thermos rattled inside.

This poem’s opening lines are sentimental and arouse feelings of warmth and nostalgia. The speaker remembers their father bringing home spruce gum, a resinous material found on spruce trees when they were little. The father’s job is depicted as working in the woods while accumulating golden-pitch pieces in his pockets. The poem highlights the father’s love and concern for his kids while also highlighting how important it is to give out spruce gum as a sacred or significant ritual. The scene comes to life because of the utilization of sensory elements, such as people swarming around the father’s feet and knocking on his lunchbox. The environment, the father’s profession, and the warm relationship between the father and his children are all established in the first lines, laying the groundwork for the themes of familial love, resourcefulness, and the appreciation of simple pleasures.

Line 8-11

Our skin would stick to Daddy's gluey clothing

and we'd smell like Mumma's Pine Sol.

We had no money for store bought gum

but that's all right.

The sensory experiences and close ties within the family are explored in this poetry. The phrase “Our skin would stick to Daddy’s gluey clothing” paints a clear picture of the children’s physical interaction with their father. The phrase “and we’d smell like Mumma’s Pine Sol” introduces the aroma that fills the kids’ rooms. The phrase “We had no money for store bought gum” emphasizes the family’s financial constraints and their dependence on straightforward, homemade substitutes. The phrase “but that’s all right” in the last line conveys a feeling of acceptance and happiness. These lines emphasize the sensory encounters and the close bonds within the family, adding to the nostalgic feel of the poetry. The speaker highlights their happy childhood recollections as well as the importance of their father’s presence and loving gestures.

Line 12-17

The spruce gum

was so close to chewing amber

as though in our mouths we held the eyes of Coyote

and how many other children had fathers

that placed on their innocent, anxious tongue

the blood of tree?

The speaker examines the meaning of the spruce gum they ate as kids and recalls its characteristics. The spruce gum was so similar to chewing amber, a fossilized tree resin recognized for its golden color and retained natural shapes, that the sentence “The spruce gum was so close to chewing amber” contrast the two experiences. The metaphorical expression “as though in our mouths we held the eyes of Coyote” expresses the experience and importance of eating spruce gum. The speaker claims that chewing the gum made them feel more in tune with the natural environment and sparked an instinctive and primitive connection. The phrase “and how many other children had fathers” poses a rhetorical question that highlights the distinctive and special nature of the connection the children had with their fathers.

The reader is prompted by the question to reflect on the rarity and value of their father’s gift of spruce gum. It emphasizes the importance of the father as a provider, protector, and source of affection in their life. The phrase “that placed on their innocent, anxious tongue” gives the children’s experience an additional aspect of vulnerability. In the last sentence, “the blood of tree?” the spruce gum is figuratively referred to as the “blood of tree,” underlining its link to the natural environment and the life power it contains. These sentences highlight the enormous value of modest acts of kindness and the beauty found in even the most mundane moments of life, furthering our comprehension of the speaker’s childhood memories and the symbolic meaning of chewing spruce gum.