I claim to be among the legions of literary-minded anti-poverty bloggers, and yet we’re more than halfway through national poetry month without a single poem from me. For shame. Today I remedy that.
My younger daughter Charlotte is nine months old, and I recently revived a tradition that I began when my older daughter, Merrie, now five, was also less than a year old: I read Charlotte poetry every evening as she falls asleep in her crib, which usually takes at least 15 or 20 minutes a night, sometimes much longer. Often I read from “A Child’s Anthology of Poetry,” which isn’t full of particularly childish poetry, so I find it quite tolerable.
One of my favorites from that collection, which I must have read at least a hundred times to my older daughter, and which I re-read last night for the first time in several years, is “Those Winter Sundays,” by Robert Hayden. I checked Hayden’s bio online today, confirming what comes through so powerfully in the poem — the terrible heartbreak and poverty of Hayden’s childhood.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
One of the great last lines; that vaguely difficult-to-conjure word, offices, somehow conveys the tone of failure and regret just perfectly.
That poem alone says much more than a hundred posts on poverty. Does that mean I can take the next six months off?