William Stafford (1914-1993)


Our Kind

Our mother knew our worth- not much. To her, success was not being noticed at all. "If we can stay out of jail," she said, "God will be proud of us." "Not worth a row of pins," she said, when we looked at the album: "Grandpa?-ridiculous." Her hearing was bad, and that was good: "None of us ever says much." She sent us forth equipped for our kind of world, a world of our betters, in a nation so strong its greatest claim is no boast, its leaders telling us all, "Be proud"- But over their shoulders, God and our mother, signaling: "Ridiculous."

For My Young Friends Who Are Afraid

There is a country to cross you will find in the corner of your eye, in the quick slip of your foot--air far down, a snap that might have caught. And maybe for you, for me, a high, passing voice that finds its way by being afraid. That country is there, for us, carried as it is crossed. What you fear will not go away: it will take you into yourself and bless you and keep you. That's the world, and we all live there.

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.

Traveling through the dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer dead on the edge of Wilson River road. It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more . By glow of the tail lightI stumbled back of the car and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent ing; she had stiffened already, almost cold. I dragged her off; she was large in the belly. My fingers touching her side brought me to the reason- her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting, alive, still, never to be born. Beside that mountian road I hesitated. The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights; under the hood purred the steady engine. I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red; around our group I could hear the wilderness listen. I thought hard for us all--my only swerving--, then pushed her off the edge into the river.

Freedom

Freedom is not following a river. Freedom is following a river though, if you want to. It is deciding now by what happens now. It is knowing that luck makes a difference. No leader is free; no follower is free-- the rest of us can often be free. Most of the world are living by creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming to be worth arguing about by reason. If you are oppressed, wake up about four in the morning; most places you can usually be free some of the time if you wake up before other people.

This is the field

This is the field where the battle did not happen, where the unknown soldier did not die. This is the field where grass joined hands, where no monument stands, and the only heroic thing is the sky. Birds fly here without a sound, unfolding their wings across the open. No people killed--or were killed--on this ground hallowed by neglect and an air so tame that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

One Home

Mine was a Midwest home -- you can keep your world. Plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code. We sang hymns in the house; the roof was near God. The light bulb that hung in the pantry made a wan light, but we could read by it the names of preserves -- outside, the buffalo grass, and the wind in the night. A wildcat sprung at Granpa on the Fourth of July when he was cutting plum bushes for fuel, before Indians pulled the West over the edge of the sky. To anyone who looked at us we said, "My friend"; liking the cut of a thought, we could say "Hello." (But plain black hats rode the thoughts that made our code.) The sun was over our town; it was like a blade. Kicking cottonwood leaves we ran toward storms. Wherever we looked the land would hold us up.

Vacation

One scene as I bow to pour her coffee: -- Three Indians in the scouring drouth huddle at a grave scooped in the gravel, lean to the wind as our train goes by. Someone is gone. There is dust on everything in Nevada. I pour the cream.

Charades

Willows in the wind act out "afraid." Rocks make the sound for "nothing." Both of those I am as a person. My father served for the concept "Gone." My mother was perfect for "Whine." And their son, that's me, "Defiant." Willow, rock, mother, father, behold what you made: "Maybe."

Learning

A piccolo played, then a drum. Feet began to come -- a part of the music. Here came a horse, clippety clop, away. My mother said, "Don't run -- the army is after someone other than us. If you stay you'll learn our enemy." Then he came, the speaker. He stood in the square. He told us who to hate. I watched my mother's face, its quiet. "That's him," she said.

Notes for the Program

Just the ordinary days, please. I wouldn't want them any better. About the pace of life, it seems best to have slow, if-I-can-stand-them revelations. And take this message about the inevitable: I've decided it's all right if it comes.
The following poems coame from a beautiful website honouring the memory of William Stafford. It can be found at: http://www.newsfromnowhere.com/allsouls.html

WHEN WILLIAM STAFFORD DIED

by Robert Bly Well, water goes down the Montana gullies. "I'll just go around this rock and think About it later." That's what you said. When death came, you said, "I'll go there." There's no sign you'll come back. Sometimes My father sat up in the coffin and was alive again. But I think you were born before my father, And the feet they made in your time were lighter. One dusk you were gone. Sometimes a fallen tree Holds onto a rock, if the current is strong. I won't say my father did that, but I won't Say he didn't either. I was watching you both. If all a man does is to watch from the shore, Then he doesn't have to worry about the current. But if affection has put us into the stream, Then we have to agree to where the water goes.

AND NO DEATH

by David Ignatow I hold the pen and all I can write is that I have been here and now am gone. May this sink into your thoughts and make a person of me once again in your person. I have said the formula and you now are elected to have this consciousness of me blossom outwards and be given to the first person you meet. It is how eventually we shall all be linked up with one another and no death will be final.

AS A MAN

by David Ignatow Wherever I go, into food stores, into the john to piss I am haunted by the poem yet to be written that I may live as a poem when I die as a man. ALL SAINTS, ALL SOULS by Kathleen Norris I had disappeared into grassland, the high plateau where the Missouri begins to claw its way south, where hail wets the wreckage of fields. I accept it gratefully, even this bitter pill. The chaos of the wind had taken me, like topsoil off a hill, dark steam churning, away from earth. But you kept me on your radar, Bill--Kneel down you said, explore for the poem. I love the saints, Thérèse cried in mortal illness--I love the saints, they want to see--the other side of death's bitter remedy, Bill, the sleep of grass, both root and blaze, the river ice waiting as time forms its word, the garden where we need not hide. Home, you say, as feasts wheel around in the dark of the year, All Saints, All Souls; all song and story. Sing it now, Bill, let it come. http://www.newsfromnowhere.com/allsouls.html