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The Darkness Around Us Is Deep: Selected Poems of William Staffordby William Stafford
Family and Children
With Kit, Age Seven, at the Beach
We would climb the highest dune,
from there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.
Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.
Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?
That was an absolute vista.
Those waves raced far, and cold.
"How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?"
"As far as was needed," I said,
and as I talked, I swam.
In scenery I like flat country.
In life I don't like much to happen.
In personalities I like mild colorless people.
And in colors I prefer gray and brown.
My wife, a vivid girl from the mountains,
says, "Then why did you choose me?"
Mildly I lower my brown eyes--
there are so many things admirable people do not understand.
At Our House
Home late, one lamp turned low,
crumpled pillow on the couch,
wet dishes in the sink (late snack),
in every child's room the checked,
slow, sure breath--
Suddenly in this doorway where I stand
in this house I see this place again,
this time the night as quiet, the house
as well secured, all breath but mine borne
gently on the air--
And where I stand, no one.
"The broken part heals even stronger than the rest,"
they say. But that takes awhile.
And, "Hurry up," the whole world says.
They tap their feet. And it still hurts on rainy
afternoons when the same absent sun
gives no sign it will ever come back.
"What difference in a hundred years?"
The barn where Agnes hanged her child
will fall by then, and the scrawled words
erase themselves on the floor where rats' feet
run. Boards curl up. Whole new trees
drink what the rivers bring. Things die.
"No good thing is easy." They told us that,
while we dug our fingers into the stones
and looked beseechingly into their eyes.
They say the hurt is good for you. It makes
what comes later a gift all the more
precious in your bleeding hands.
For a Lost Child
What happens is, the kind of snow that sweeps
Wyoming comes down while I'm asleep. Dawn
finds our sleeping bag but you are gone.
Nowhere now, you call through every storm,
a voice that wanders without a home.
Across bridges that used to find a shore
you pass, and along shadows of trees that fell
before you were born. You are a memory
too strong to leave this world that slips away
even as its precious time goes on.
we ever found, a bright shadow the sun
forgot one day. On a map of Spain
our family traveled: "Daddy, we could meet here."
S Memorial: Son Bret
In the way you went you were important.
In the pattern of my life you stand
where you stood always, in the center,
a hero, a puzzle, a man.
What you might have told me
the body cold. I am afraid,
in the circling stars, in the dark,
and even at noon in the light.
When I run what am I running from?
You turned once to tell me something,
but then you glimpsed a shadow on my face
and maybe thought, Why tell what hurts?
You carried it, my boy,so brave, so far.
Now we have all the days, and the sun
goes by the same; there is a faint,
wandering trail I find sometimes, off
through grass and sage. I stop
and listen: only summer again--remember?--
The bees, the wind.
The Light by the Barn
The light by the barn that shines all night
pales at dawn when a little breeze comes.
A little breeze comes breathing the fields
from their sleep and waking the slow windmill.
The slow windmill sings the long day
about anguish and loss to the chickens at work.
The little breeze follows the slow windmill
and the chickens at work till the sun goes down--
Then the light by the barn again.
Vacation? Well, our children took our love apart:
"Why do you hold Daddy's hand?" "Susy's mother
doesn't have gray in her hair." And scenes crushed
our wonder--Sun Valley, Sawtooths, those reaches
of the Inland Passage--while the children took our
simple love apart.
(Children, how many colors does the light have?
Remember the wide shafts of sunlight, roads
through the trees, how light examines the road hour
by hour? It is all various, no simple on-off colors.
And love does not come riding west through the
trees to find you.)
"Daddy, tell me your best secret." (I have woven
a parachute out of everything broken; my scars
are my shield; and I jump, daylight or dark,
into any country, where as I descend I turn
native and stumble into terribly human speech
and wince recognition.)
"When you get old, how do you know what to do?"
(Waves will quiet, wind lull; and in that
instant I will have all the time in the world;
something deeper thanbirthdays will tell me all I need.)
"But will you do right?" (Children, children,
oh, see that waterfall.)
We didn't know at the time. It was
for us, a telephone call through the world
and nobody answered.
We thought it was a train far off
giving its horn, roving its headlight
side to side in its tunnel of darkness
and shaking the bridge and our house
till dishes rattled, and going away.
We thought it a breath climbing the well where Kim
almost fell in; it was a breath saying his name,
and "Almost got you," but we piled boards
and bricks on top and held off that voice.
Or maybe it was the song in the stove--
walnut and elm giving forth stored sunlight
through that narrow glass eye on the front
in the black door that held in the fire.
Or a sigh from under the mound of snow where Bret's
little car with its toy wheels nestled all winter
ready to roll, come spring, and varoom
when his feet toddled it along.
Or--listen--in the cardboard house
we built by the kitchen wall, a doorknob
drawn with crayon, Kit's little window peeking
out by the table--is it a message from there?
And from Aunt Helen's room where she sews
all day on a comforter made out of pieces of Grandma's
dresses, and the suits for church--maybe those
patches rustle their message in her fingers:
"Dorothy, for you, and for all the family I sew
that we may be warm in the house by the tracks."
those times, a call through the world that almost
rang everywhere, and we looked up--Dorothy, Helen,
Bret, Kim, Kit--and only the snow
shifted its foot outside in the wind,
and nobody heard.
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