Book Of Hours

Poems

by Kevin Young

Book of Hours

Hardcover, 192 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $26.95 | purchase

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Book Of Hours
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Poems
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Kevin Young

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NPR Summary

Kevin Young's poems reflect on the loss of his father and the birth of his son.

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NPR stories about Book Of Hours

Kevin Young's 2012 essay collection The Grey Album: On The Blackness Of Blackness was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Melanie Dunea/CPi hide caption

itoggle caption Melanie Dunea/CPi

Poetry

Ice Cube Sculptures, Tulips And Death: A 2014 Poetry Preview

What could be better, or harder, than death and birth in one book? Young is our prolific chronicler of the state of the African-American union, but also of fatherhood, of son-hood. These poems counter the grief of the father's death with the bewildering joy of a child's birth. This is mourning with its feet on the ground — of the dead father's dogs, Young writes, "Their grief is colossal// & forgetful./ Each day they wake/ seeking his voice,//their names." He also evokes new fatherhood

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Book Of Hours

Charity

So many socks.

After the pair
the undertaker asks for
(I picture them black

beneath the fold
in your open casket,
your toes still cold)

what else to do.
Body bags
of old suits, shirts

still pressed, long
johns, the unworn,
unwashed wreckage

of your closet, too many
coats to keep, though I will save
so many. How can I

give away the last
of your scent? And still,
father, you have errands,

errant dry cleaning to pick up —
yellow tags whose ghostly
carbon tells a story

where to look. One
place closed
for good, the tag old.

One place none
of your clothes,
just stares as if no one

ever dies, as if you
are naked somewhere
& I suppose you are.

Nothing here.
The last place knows exactly
what I mean, brings me shirts

hanging like a head.
Starched collars
your beard had worn.

One man saying sorry, older lady
in the back saying how funny
you were, how you joked

with her weekly. Sorry
& a fellow black man hands
your clothes back for free,

don't worry. I've learned death
has few kindnesses left.
Such is charity — so rare

& so rarely free —
that on the way back
to your emptying house

I weep. Then drive
everything, swaying,
straight to Goodwill —

open late — to live on
another body
& day.

Bereavement

Behind his house, my father's dogs
sleep in kennels, beautiful,
he built just for them.

They do not bark.
Do they know he is dead?
They wag their tails

& head. They beg
& are fed.
Their grief is colossal

& forgetful.
Each day they wake
seeking his voice,

their names.
By dusk they seem
to unremember everything –

to them even hunger
is a game. For that, I envy.
For that, I cannot bear to watch them

pacing their cage. I try to remember
they love best confined space
to feel safe. Each day

a saint comes by to feed the pair
& I draw closer
the shades.

I've begun to think of them
as my father's other sons,
as kin. Brothers- in- paw.

My eyes each day thaw.
One day the water cuts off.
Then back on.

They are outside dogs —
which is to say, healthy
& victorious, purposeful

& one giant muscle
like the heart. Dad taught
them not to bark, to point

out their prey. To stay.
Were they there that day?
They call me

like witnesses & will not say.
I ask for their care
& their carelessness —

wish of them forgiveness.
I must give them away.
I must find for them homes,

sleep restless in his.
All night I expect they pace
as I do, each dog like an eye

roaming with the dead
beneath an unlocked lid.

Memorial Day

Thunder knocks
loud on all the doors.

Lightning lets you
inside every house,
white flooding

the spare, spotless rooms.
Flags at half mast.

And like choirboys,
clockwork, the dogs
ladder their voices

to the dark, echoing off
each half- hid star.

Excerpted from Book Of Hours by Kevin Young. Copyright 2014 by Kevin Young. Excerpted by permission of Knopf.

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