Tess Gallagher

Small Hut
September 15, 2011 Gallagher Tess

Small Hut


I know you only in echo,

as your parents confide—the wound of it

borne as if grief were life’s only message

when you have one son

who takes his life

from his life, their lives.

Your mother says she can’t see you

past your knees. Hard to know you as you

in your afterlife where she tries to follow

in mind to see are you all right there.

She feels cheated, unable

to see your face which

you obliterated, taking yourself

out of here.

You’d tried before, then promised

to get help, go to AA, find

a sponsor; and you meant to, but

for reasons you kept from them,

and maybe even from yourself,

could not. We lose humanity

if we miss knowing

the full range of choices

that might have led you from harm

did not open to you in that deadly hour.

With non-specific pain

all doorways must seem very specifically

shut. We sit together with your “maybes”

which outlive you. Those who love you

are stuffing you with intentions.

The good woman who left you, she

left just in time not to be

the assumed reason

you succeeded this time in putting the world

to sleep.

Hearing on Irish radio of another man whose son

was beaten to death, then thrown

onto the railroad tracks when the murderer

wanted to hide his deed—how that father knew

where the unconvicted killer lived and would stand

at intervals in the night before the house

and howl: You murderer! You

killed my son! over and over,

I wish I could build a small hut, a wailing hut

where your father could stand similarly and cry

against the facelessness of loss incubating its “whys.”

And even if the killer never comes out

to face his accusers, it’s a brand

on the communal heart to have one father cry like that

with his whole being,

trying to make a rectitude with only his voice

and his love raking the night.

If the door of this hut opened, and

the murderer stepped out, it would be easier

to see this was not your son, and the grief

would bear two forms—the desperate one

who took him, and the one we love

when love asks everything.

But did the father go home?

He went home.

What did he there?

He sat with his wife and they drank together

peppermint tea, calming themselves.

They had to make dinner.

They had to see to things.

But beyond that

they found themselves in love in an entirely

new unspeakable way

with each other

and with their ever prodigal son.


for Russell Guthrie

and his parents, Ann and Jim


Tess Gallagher’s newest book, Midnight Lantern: New and Selected Poems (Graywolf), will be released 27 September, 2011. Tess Gallagher spends time in a cottage on Lough Arrow in Co. Sligo in the West of Ireland and also lives and writes in her hometown of Port Angeles, WA. Her 12th volume of poetry, Is, Is Not, will be published by Graywolf Press in America in 2019. A dual-language edition of her poems has just been published in Romania.