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W. D. Snodgrass
W. D. Snodgrass
William De Witt Snodgrass was born in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1926. His more than twenty books of poetry include The Fuehrer Bunker: The Complete Cycle (1995); Each in His Season (1993); Selected...
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Heart's Needle
by W. D. Snodgrass

For Cynthia

When he would not return to fine
garments and good food, to his houses
and his people, Loingseachan told him,
"Your father is dead." "I'm sorry to
hear it," he said. "Your mother is
dead," said the lad. "All pity for me
has gone out of the world." "Your
sister, too, is dead." "The mild sun rests
on every ditch," he said; "a sister loves
even though not loved." "Suibhne, your
daughter is dead." "And an only
daughter is the needle of the heart."
"And Suibhne, your little boy, who
used to call you 'Daddy' he is dead."
"Aye," said Suibhne, "that's the drop
that brings a man to the ground."
He fell out of the yew tree;
Loingseachan closed his arms around
him and placed him in manacles.

After the middle-Irish romance,
The Madness of Suibhne


1


Child of my winter, born

When the new fallen soldiers froze
In Asia's steep ravines and fouled the snows,
When I was torn

By love I could not still,
By fear that silenced my cramped mind
To that cold war where, lost, I could not find
My peace in my will,

All those days we could keep
Your mind a landscape of new snow
Where the chilled tenant-farmer finds, below,
His fields asleep

In their smooth covering, white
As quilts to warm the resting bed
Of birth or pain, spotless as paper spread
For me to write,

And thinks: Here lies my land
Unmarked by agony, the lean foot
Of the weasel tracking, the thick trapper's boot;
And I have planned

My chances to restrain
The torments of demented summer or
Increase the deepening harvest here before
It snows again.


2


    Late April and you are three; today

We dug your garden in the yard.
To curb the damage of your play,
Strange dogs at night and the moles tunneling,
Four slender sticks of lath stand guard
Uplifting their thin string.

So you were the first to tramp it down.
And after the earth was sifted close
You brought your watering can to drown
All earth and us. But these mixed seeds are pressed
With light loam in their steadfast rows.
Child, we've done our best.

Someone will have to weed and spread
The young sprouts. Sprinkle them in the hour
When shadow falls across their bed.
You should try to look at them every day
Because when they come to full flower
I will be away.


6


       Easter has come around 

again: the river is rising
over the thawed ground
and the banksides. When you come you bring
an egg dyed lavender.
We shout along our bank to hear
our voices returning from the hills to meet us.
We need the landscape to repeat us.

You lived on this bank first.
While nine months filled your term, we knew
how your lungs, immersed
in the womb, miraculously grew
their useless folds till
the fierce, cold air rushed in to fill
them out like bushes thick with leaves. You took your hour,
caught breath, and cried with your full lung power.

Over the stagnant bight
we see the hungry bank swallow
flaunting his free flight
still; we sink in mud to follow
the killdeer from the grass
that hides her nest. That March there was
rain; the rivers rose; you could hear killdeers flying
all night over the mudflats crying.

You bring back how the red-
winged blackbird shrieked, slapping frail wings,
diving at my head--
I saw where her tough nest, cradled, swings
in tall reeds that must sway
with the winds blowing every way.
If you recall much, you recall this place. You still
live nearby--on the opposite hill.

After the sharp windstorm
of July Fourth, all that summer
through the gentle, warm
afternoons, we heard great chain saws chirr
like iron locusts. Crews
of roughneck boys swarmed to cut loose
branches wrenched in the shattering wind, to hack free
all the torn limbs that could sap the tree.

In the debris lay
starlings, dead. Near the park's birdrun
we surprised one day
a proud, tan-spatted, buff-brown pigeon.
In my hands she flapped so
fearfully that I let her go.
Her keeper came. And we helped snarl her in a net.
You bring things I'd as soon forget.

You raise into my head
a Fall night that I came once more
to sit on your bed;
sweat beads stood out on your arms and fore-
head and you wheezed for breath,
for help, like some child caught beneath
its comfortable wooly blankets, drowning there.
Your lungs caught and would not take the air.

Of all things, only we
have power to choose that we should die;
nothing else is free
in this world to refuse it. Yet I,
who say this, could not raise
myself from bed how many days
to the thieving world. Child, I have another wife,
another child. We try to choose our life.



From Selected Poems 1957-1987 by W. D. Snodgrass, published by Soho Press, Inc. Copyright 1987 by W. D. Snodgrass. Used with permission.
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