Poetry of Love, Resistance, & Solidarity

Posts tagged ‘William Stafford’

41. Blue Brick from the Midwest

After my father collapsed like a bolt of light, toppled without a word,

I was the one to enter his study, find the jagged note to our mother he

scratched as he reeled, the freight train of his departure hurtling

through his heart—

—a sentiment he did not speak in 79 years as tough customer,

affable but stern, inert when grief came, reserved as granite

when my brother died, cracking plaintive jokes when we trembled

in the hospital, mother going under the knife.

His way was trenchant, oblique. He distrusted those who

talk about God, preferring to honor the holy with a glance,

a nod, or silence. Delving deeper, the day he died, we found

in his sock drawer, under that scant set of flimsy raiment, the fetching

photo of the flirt: our mother, coy at the sink, looking back

over her shoulder, dressed only in an apron with a big bow.

No fool like an old fool.

And delving deeper, at the back of the bottom file (the niche

where one would hide the stuff of blackmail) I touched the blue

brick of love letters our mother had sent him when they

courted in the war—brittle leaves kissed snug together

and bound with string, the trove he had carried

in secret through every move since 1943. She knew

them not, nor had his. “Oh, Billy,” she said.

Father, early years taught your way with the heart’s contraband

when the dirty thirties blunted your bravado, tornado snatched

your friends, the war your tenderness, and left you with these secrets

hoarded for us to find when you were gone.

— Kim Stafford

“Blue Brick from the Midwest” is from Prairie Prescription, a chapbook forthcoming from Limberlost Press in 2011. Kim Stafford is the founding director of the Northwest Writing Institute at Lewis & Clark College. He is the author of The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer’s Craft and Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford.

40. Ode to Bill Stafford

Your poems were never to a set agenda.

What words people marveled at

You put aside, for what others might call

Mundane, out of place, too ordinary.

All too available.

Every morning at five

You the explorer, put on

Your gray shirt, khakis, and shoes

And went in search,

Not of a poem

But the first faint call

Of a fish hook glinting dull in the mud,

A lost country on a wall where

Ants pass on the right,

Black hats with voices

That ride our thoughts.

You the explorer with the dull

Glinting hook, did not throw it away

For lack of promise.

You held fast instead and listened

To its real music,

And danced along the shore.

You became a flute-player,

Father of fish, and they

Hearing the melody

Dance onto the shore

With their fish legs after you

Twisting their fish bodies

Doing the holy wiggle.

You, the explorer, gave your

Gray shirt and khaki pant

To the lead fish – still dancing –

And walked into a high cabin

White from the sanctity

And your sister waiting

With scarves and gloves

Laughs at you because she knows

You’ve been dancing with the fish

To a melody all too forgotten.

How strange that we laugh at your explorer ways

How you go out in search of nothing

And come back complete,

With ants, fish, deer,

Black hats, white suits, a war camp,

Dead people, a lost country.

How is it that for us that come after you

Your music is old.

Must poems come from grand ideas?

We are so intellectual.

We forget sometimes the best

Lesson is the complaint of birds.

And your sister,

Waiting, steps onto the hard

Snow-covered ground

Fastens dogs to the sled

And waits for you to come out

Decked in winter gear.

Father explorer,

What will you find?

Threads in the snow reaching

Deep into our silence?

White horses dead

In front of your sled?

This morning I found your shirt

And khakis, well washed,

Hanging on the gray branch of a tree,

The hook, anchored to the front right pocket,

Still glinting dull.

— Abayomi Animashaun

Abayomi Animashaun is a Nigerian emigre whose poems have appeared in such journals as Diode, Drunkenboat, African American Review, and Southern Indiana Review. He is the winner of the 2008 Hudson prize and a recipient of a grant from the International Center for Writing and Translation. Animashaun’s poetry collection, The Giving of Pears, is available through Black Lawrence Press.

39. Assurance

William Stafford (photo by Steven Hind)

You will never be alone, you hear so deep

a sound when autumn comes. Yellow

pulls across the hills and thrums,

or the silence after lightning before it says

its names – and then the clouds’ wide-mouthed

apologies. You were aimed from birth:

you will never be alone. Rain

will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,

long aisles – you never heard so deep a sound,

moss on rock, and years. You turn your head –

that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.

The whole wide world pours down.

— William Stafford

William Stafford

William Stafford, one of the world’s most beloved poets, was born and raised in Kansas, starting his prolific poetic life in Hutchinson in 1914, and going on to receive his BA and MA from the University of Kansas. During the Second World War, Stafford was a conscientious objector and worked in the civilian public service camps-an experience he recorded in the prose memoir Down My Heart (1947). He married Dorothy Hope Frantz in 1944; they had four children, including writer Kim Stafford. Stafford taught at Lewis and Clark College from 1948 until 1980. His first major collection of poems, Traveling Through the Dark, won the National Book Award in 1963. He went on to publish more than sixty-five volumes of poetry and prose. Among his many honors and awards were a Shelley Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Western States Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry. In 1970, he was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a position currently known as the Poet Laureate).

Special thanks to Kim Stafford for permission to include this poem, reprinted with permission of Graywolf Press.

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