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The Darkness Around Us Is Deep

Selected Poems of William Stafford

by William Stafford and Robert Bly

Paperback, 138 pages, Harpercollins, List Price: $13 |


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The Darkness Around Us Is Deep
Selected Poems of William Stafford
William Stafford and Robert Bly

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Book Summary

Poems deal with parents, Western landscapes, Native Americans, peace, childhood, nature, and the past

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Excerpt: The Darkness Around Us Is Deep

The Darkness Around Us Is Deep

Selected Poems of William Stafford


Copyright © 2004 William Stafford
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060969164

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.

Passing Remark

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 thanthe 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.

I glimpse you often, faithful to every country

we ever found, a bright shadow the sun

forgot one day. On a map of Spain

I find your note left from a trip that year

our family traveled: "Daddy, we could meet here."

S Memorial: Son Bret

In the way you went you were important.

I do not know what you found.

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

I will never know--the lips went still,

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.

Any Time

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 than birthdays will tell me all I need.)

"But will you do right?" (Children, children,

oh, see that waterfall.)

Long Distance

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."

I don't know, but there was a voice,

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.Continues...