Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Sunday Poem: John Haines

American Life in Poetry: Column 095


Literature, and in this instance, poetry, holds a mirror to life; thus the great themes of life become the great themes of poems. Here the distinguished American poet, John Haines, addresses—and celebrates through the affirmation of poetry—our preoccupation with aging and mortality.

He has also written some meaty political poems. Following "Young Man" I have reprinted "Kent State, 1970" from the website archipelago. Don't miss it! --J_M

Young Man

I seemed always standing
before a door
to which I had no key,
although I knew it hid behind it
a gift for me.

Until one day I closed
my eyes a moment, stretched
then looked once more.
And not surprised, I did not mind it
when the hinges creaked
and, smiling, Death
held out his hands to me.

Reprinted from "ABZ: A Poetry Magazine," No. 1, 2006, by permission of the author. Copyright © 2006, by John Haines, whose most recent book of poetry is "Of Your Passage, O Summer," Limberlost Press, 2004. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Premonitory, her outstretched arms
as she kneels in the spring sunlight,
the cry on her lips that will not
raise the boy lying dead before her.

How often has that image returned,
to fade and reappear, then fade again?
In Rwanda, in Grozny, Oklahoma . . .
Kabul, city of rubble and orphans.

And now the Capitol streets are closing,
an aroused militia at the gates –
the fences scaled by a stray gunman
for an enemy poised ever within.

We are asleep in the blurred ink
of our own newsprint, in the flicker
of our nightline images; in the fraying
voices of distracted candidates.

How long before that prone form rises,
to stand, confused and blinking
on the sunlit campus field; then fall
again in the blood we cannot see . . .

And that long-held cry of hers awakens,
to be heard at last over the stutter
of gunfire – in the grassy echo of a town,
a street, a house no longer there?

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