William Stafford (1914-1993)
Our mother knew our worth-
not much. To her, success
was not being noticed at all.
"If we can stay out of jail,"
she said, "God will be proud of us."
"Not worth a row of pins,"
she said, when we looked at the album:
Her hearing was bad, and that
was good: "None of us ever says much."
She sent us forth equipped
for our kind of world, a world of
our betters, in a nation so strong
its greatest claim is no boast,
its leaders telling us all, "Be proud"-
But over their shoulders, God and
our mother, signaling: "Ridiculous."
For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid
There is a country to cross you will
find in the corner of your eye, in
the quick slip of your foot--air far
down, a snap that might have caught.
And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing
voice that finds its way by being
afraid. That country is there, for us,
carried as it is crossed. What you fear
will not go away: it will take you into
yourself and bless you and keep you.
That's the world, and we all live there.
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.
Traveling through the dark
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more .
By glow of the tail lightI stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent ing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me to the reason-
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountian road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--,
then pushed her off the edge into the river.
Freedom is not following a river.
Freedom is following a river
though, if you want to.
It is deciding now by what happens now.
It is knowing that luck makes a difference.
No leader is free; no follower is free--
the rest of us can often be free.
Most of the world are living by
creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming
to be worth arguing about by reason.
If you are oppressed, wake up about
four in the morning; most places
you can usually be free some of the time
if you wake up before other people.
This is the field
This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.
Birds fly here without a sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed--or were killed--on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.
Mine was a Midwest home -- you can keep your world.
Plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code.
We sang hymns in the house; the roof was near God.
The light bulb that hung in the pantry made a wan light,
but we could read by it the names of preserves --
outside, the buffalo grass, and the wind in the night.
A wildcat sprung at Granpa on the Fourth of July
when he was cutting plum bushes for fuel,
before Indians pulled the West over the edge of the sky.
To anyone who looked at us we said, "My friend";
liking the cut of a thought, we could say "Hello."
(But plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code.)
The sun was over our town; it was like a blade.
Kicking cottonwood leaves we ran toward storms.
Wherever we looked the land would hold us up.
One scene as I bow to pour her coffee: --
Three Indians in the scouring drouth
huddle at a grave scooped in the gravel,
lean to the wind as our train goes by.
Someone is gone.
There is dust on everything in Nevada.
I pour the cream.
Willows in the wind act out "afraid."
Rocks make the sound for "nothing."
Both of those I am as a person.
My father served for the concept "Gone."
My mother was perfect for "Whine."
And their son, that's me, "Defiant."
Willow, rock, mother, father,
behold what you made: "Maybe."
A piccolo played, then a drum.
Feet began to come -- a part
of the music. Here came a horse,
clippety clop, away.
My mother said, "Don't run --
the army is after someone
other than us. If you stay
you'll learn our enemy."
Then he came, the speaker. He stood
in the square. He told us who
to hate. I watched my mother's face,
its quiet. "That's him," she said.
Notes for the Program
Just the ordinary days, please.
I wouldn't want them any better.
About the pace of life, it seems best to have
slow, if-I-can-stand-them revelations.
And take this message about the inevitable:
I've decided it's all right if it comes.
The following poems coame from a beautiful website honouring the memory of William Stafford. It can be found at:
WHEN WILLIAM STAFFORD DIED
by Robert Bly
Well, water goes down the Montana gullies.
"I'll just go around this rock and think
About it later." That's what you said.
When death came, you said, "I'll go there."
There's no sign you'll come back. Sometimes
My father sat up in the coffin and was alive again.
But I think you were born before my father,
And the feet they made in your time were lighter.
One dusk you were gone. Sometimes a fallen tree
Holds onto a rock, if the current is strong.
I won't say my father did that, but I won't
Say he didn't either. I was watching you both.
If all a man does is to watch from the shore,
Then he doesn't have to worry about the current.
But if affection has put us into the stream,
Then we have to agree to where the water goes.
AND NO DEATH
by David Ignatow
I hold the pen and all I can write
is that I have been here and now am gone.
May this sink into your thoughts
and make a person of me once again
in your person.
I have said the formula and you now
are elected to have this consciousness
of me blossom outwards and be given
to the first person you meet. It is
how eventually we shall all be linked up
with one another and no death
will be final.
AS A MAN
by David Ignatow
Wherever I go,
into food stores,
into the john to piss
I am haunted by the poem
yet to be written
that I may live as a poem
when I die as a man.
ALL SAINTS, ALL SOULS
by Kathleen Norris
I had disappeared
into grassland, the high plateau
where the Missouri begins
to claw its way south, where hail
wets the wreckage of fields. I accept it
gratefully, even this
The chaos of the wind
had taken me, like topsoil
off a hill, dark steam
from earth. But you kept me
on your radar, Bill--Kneel down
you said, explore
for the poem.
I love the saints,
Thérèse cried in mortal illness--I love the saints,
they want to see--the other side
of death's bitter
of grass, both root
and blaze, the river ice waiting
as time forms its word, the garden
where we need not hide.
Home, you say,
as feasts wheel around
in the dark of the year, All Saints,
All Souls; all song
and story. Sing it now, Bill,
let it come.