The Gone and the Going Away
The world I know keeps going farther
and farther away. I cannot keep it
from going, though I love it still,
and yet, with darker joy. The dark
because that world was soaked in sadness;
the joy because I understood
and lived there, too. It’s that simple,
sometimes love can stay in the heart
of such a time and place and turn
to fiercer love, to love beyond
all understanding of the name.
Not really simple, no. The world
I live in now feels flattened out;
it isn’t simple or difficult,
it is a world of wanting more,
but tired of having all it has.
But I won’t condemn that predicament:
I’m not a prophet, not yet. Perhaps I knew
this would happen, a removal in time from time,
but I didn’t know it would happen so soon,
one world replaced by a later world
I don’t belong to. Yet still, today,
while walking in the woods, I remembered
the first one, the one I’m from. I remembered
a boy, dear Lord forgive him, who killed
the neighbor’s kittens. One by one,
he hung them from a clothesline until
they slumped like a row of wet socks.
I thought about that day, a mean one,
about the boy whose mother beat him
with a soup ladle, whose father got drunk
and run over by a coal train—
and then I had a larger thought,
and more disturbing: I wondered where
did all the old time people go?
Who’s hidden them away and why?
The country poor are hard to count,
but easy to blame for the way they live,
a dog chained to a wooden box,
a junk-pile heaped in the yard, a twist
of smoke rising from a barrel.
Surely they know better. Surely
we all do always, but don’t. I knew
a boy named Billy Oglesby
who carried a pistol in his boot.
He married a girl and pretty soon
they had a baby and started going
to this hollering church and got convinced
the baby had a demon in it.
So they burned the baby’s toys and clothes
in their patch of yard and locked the baby
in a shed for three days and prayed
the demon out. And it worked, the praying.
Is it hope or hopelessness we see
in this little scene, the burn-pile flecked
with bits of color, but mostly ash?
I don’t know, but part of me is glad
it happened. I don’t know why.
I recognize it, I see it all;
it doesn’t hide the human truth.
O, woman who washed your worn clothes
in a bucket on the stove, old man
who napped in the yard with the goat who ate
the buttons off your shirt, where are
you now? Has some peace found you? And you,
Agnes Caldwell, you woe-bent digger
of mountain graves, O what became
of you and the weary songs you sang?
Does some still water run beside
you now? O, will you keep a place
for me beside you in the grass?
You, Vicey. You, Peanut. You, Hopper. You, Red.