DOG & FATHER
The dog barked that year,
Delighted with its gift
To the family: a crow
With a broken wing, barely
Alive and struggling to remain
Here, in its mind, on this
Planet of remarkable birds.
When Bingo, the dog, barked,
We ran out and scolded him
For the effort. I remember
The look of sadness
That came over him: not
Unlike the look my father
Unleashed that morning,
Before his final sunrise,
In 1985. He'd been
In the throes of cancer,
So looking sad was pretty
Much the one vestige
Of giving he had left.
His dark eyes glistened
In that special way
Those about to leave us
Give off. The crow
Had it, too. Speaking
Of that crow, it died when
Bingo, in his excitement,
Stepped on its other wing.
My father left us sometime later.
This, then, is about gifts
And the unconscionable
Sadness they bring.
Chung Shin, my little brother, left us
after he had seen nine springs.
It was morning, a sunny day,
the ricefields outside the window
were green and full of joyful sparrows.
Then came the priest in black robes,
with ancient instruments of music.
Days and nights they stood before a row
of haunting candle flames and sang
their scriptures with never changing
sleepy tune, as if they were asking
favors for my brother from gods in heaven.
After Chung Shin’s soul was saved
by the blood of a rooster,
my father brought from the village
a paper carriage and horse, with a paper
lantern and paper driver, and burned them
in the graveyard, in order that my brother
might find his way home in the night.
We burned, too, a thousand paper dollars,
so that he might have something to spend.
Lastly my mother burned a paper kite,
for my brother’s favorite sport was to fly
a kite in the spring wind.
I saw my mother dry her eyes with a white
handkerchief, I heard my father groan
as he walked to and fro, biting his fist.
I watched the ashes dancing by the cypress.
I smelled the fresh earth and herbs.
I felt the chilly evening air; and I knew
we would go home and leave Chung Shin here
behind a stone. And the day he left us:
it was morning, a sunny day.
The ricefields outside the window
were green and full of joyful sparrows.
A. E. Housman
In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.
Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.
The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away;
'Come to church, good people;
Good people come and pray.'
But here my love would stay.
And I would turn and and answer
Among the springing thyme,
'Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church on time.'
But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.
They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she;
And would not wait for me.
The bells they sound on Bredon,
And still the steeples hum,
'Come all to church, good people'--
Oh,noisy bells be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.
* Pronounced Breedon
Jane Birdsall Lander
We're at Einer's Pond till midnight
catching frogs for bait and watching mayflies hatch.
Heading home I fall asleep wrapped with my star quilt
in the back of the hearse.
Next thing Gramp's out of the car shouting.
The rear door flings open, someone unrolling me
without asking, without saying a word.
Staring through the dark
I press flat as a shadow against the window
while my edges blur and cool like the sun's rim
during winter dusks.
Men's voices rumble
like stones turning underground; I can't
make out Gramp's voice from the others.
In the glare of headlights
Two men with bloody hands keep mumbling.
All I can hear is sorry
but their eyes flicker like lit matches
as they spit and pass a bottle.
I hear a shovel scrape the pavement,
someone shooing a hound away.
They lift the stretcher in beside me;
a deadman wrapped in my quilt,
a bucket of scared bull-frogs
singing jug-o-rum jug-o-rum,
the long ride home.
A STORM IN CHILDHOOD
T. H. Jones
We had taken the long way home, a mile
Or two further than any of us had to walk,
But it meant being together longer, and home later.
The storm broke on us--broke is a cliché,
But us isn't--that storm was loosed for us, on us.
My cousin Blodwen, oldest and wisest of us,
Said in a voice we'd never heard her use before:
'The lightning kills you when it strikes the trees.'
If we were in anything besides a storm, it was trees.
On our left, the valley bottom was nothing but trees,
And on our right the trees went halfway up
The hill. We ran, between the trees and the trees,
Five children hand-in-hand, afraid of God,
Afraid of being among the lightning-fetching
Trees, soaked, soaked with rain, with sweat, with tears,
Frightened, if that's the adequate word, frightened
By the loud voice and the lambent threat,
Frightened certainly of whippings for being late,
Five children, ages six to eleven, stumbling
After a bit of running through trees from God.
Even my cousin who was eleven--I can't remember
If she was crying, too--I suppose I hope so.
But I do remember the younger ones when the stumbling
Got worse as the older terror of trees got worse
Adding their tears' irritation to the loud world of wet
And tall trees waiting to be struck by the flash, and us
With them--that running stumble, hand-in-hand--five
Children aware of our sins as we ran stumblingly:
Our sins which seemed such pointless things to talk
About to mild Miss Davies on the hard Sunday benches.
The lightning struck no trees, nor any of us.
I think we all got beaten; some of us got colds.
It was the longest race I ever ran,
A race against God's voice sounding from the hills
And his blaze aimed at the trees and at us,
A race in the unfriendly rain, with only the other
Children, hand-in-hand, to comfort me to know
They too were frightened, all of us miserable sinners.
Write a poem about a time you knew you were going to be punished. What were you scared of? How did you act.
from FEAR NO MORE THE HEAT O' THE SUN
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
A BIRTHDAY POEM
For every year of life we light
a candle on your cake
to mark the simple sort of progress
anyone can make,
and then, to test your nerve or give
a proper view of death,
you're asked to blow each light, each year,
out with your own breath.
Think about it for a while, and then write your own poem about blowing out birthday candles