Poem of the Week, by Robert Hayden

My father and I were in the car last month, driving back from the diner where we go early each morning I’m home visiting my parents. (Say the word “home” to yourself – what’s the image that comes instantly into your mind?) I asked him if he thought tIMG_3873here was anything beyond this world, and that my grandmother –his mother– had told me near the end of her life that she believed in a heaven where my grandfather, and her parents, and her sister and her friends would all be waiting for her when she got there. My father laughed and said he didn’t know about that, but that he did believe there was some kind of force in the universe, beyond his power to grasp. When I was a child my father was a force in my universe. He was a giant man with giant physical strength, the kind of man who would pour Clorox on a bleeding wound to disinfect it and avoid a doctor visit. This poem, by Robert Hayden, always comes to mind on Father’s Day. I first read it as a child and didn’t understand it. But I do now.

Those Winter Sundays 
     – Robert Hayden
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?
For more information on Robert Hayden, please click here.



Poem of the Week, by William Stafford

Mom and Dad and me in DundasThis one goes out to my dad, who taught me how to make scrambled eggs, how to drive stick (kind of, anyway – after a few too many times of me stalling out the little red truck he got out of the cab so as not to yell anymore and told me I could figure it out on my own there in the cornfield, which I totally did), how to build a fire in the woodstove, how to ride a bike, how to love the open road and wheels beneath me, how not to suffer fools, how to read the funnies on Sunday morning, how to be loyal, how to be stoic, how to work hard, and how to tell a good story. Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers and father-types out there.

Father’s Voice
– William Stafford

“No need to get home early;
the car can see in the dark.”
He wanted me to be rich
the only way we could,
easy with what we had.

And always that was his gift,
given for me ever since,
easy gift, a wind
that keeps on blowing for flowers
or birds wherever I look.

World, I am your slow guest,
one of the common things
that move in the sun and have
close, reliable friends
in the earth, in the air, in the rock.


For more information on William Stafford, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Patricia Smith

When the Burning Begins
– Patricia Smith
for Otis Douglas Smith, my father

The recipe for hot water cornbread is simple:
Cornmeal, hot water. Mix till sluggish,
then dollop in a sizzling skillet.
When you smell the burning begin, flip it.
When you smell the burning begin again,
dump it onto a plate. You’ve got to wait
for the burning and get it just right.

Before the bread cools down,
smear it with sweet salted butter
and smash it with your fingers,
crumple it up in a bowl
of collard greens or buttermilk,
forget that I’m telling you it’s the first thing
I ever cooked, that my daddy was laughing
and breathing and no bullet in his head
when he taught me.

Mix it till it looks like quicksand, he’d say.
Till it moves like a slow song sounds.

We’d sit there in the kitchen, licking our fingers
and laughing at my mother,
who was probably scrubbing something with bleach,
or watching Bonanza,
or thinking how stupid it was to be burning
that nasty old bread in that cast iron skillet.
When I told her that I’d made my first-ever pan
of hot water cornbread, and that my daddy
had branded it glorious, she sniffed and kept
mopping the floor over and over in the same place.

So here’s how you do it:

You take out a bowl, like the one
we had with blue flowers and only one crack,
you put the cornmeal in it.
Then you turn on the hot water and you let it run
while you tell the story about the boy
who kissed your cheek after school
or about how you really want to be a reporter
instead of a teacher or nurse like Mama said,
and the water keeps running while Daddy says

You will be a wonderful writer
and you will be famous someday and when
you get famous, if I wrote you a letter and
sent you some money; would you write about me?

and he is laughing and breathing and no bullet
in his head. So you let the water run into this mix
till it moves like mud moves at the bottom of a river,
which is another thing Daddy said, and even though
I’d never even seen a river,
I knew exactly what he meant.
Then you turn the fire way up under the skillet,
and you pour in this mix
that moves like mud moves at the bottom of a river,
like quicksand, like slow song sounds.

That stuff pops something awful when it first hits
that blazing skillet, and sometimes Daddy and I
would dance to those angry pop sounds,
he’d let me rest my feet on top of his
while we waltzed around the kitchen
and my mother huffed and puffed
on the other side of the door. When you are famous,
Daddy asks me, will you write about dancing
in the kitchen with your father?
I say everything I write will be about you,
then you will be famous too. And we dip and swirl
and spin, but then he stops.
And sniffs the air.

The thing you have to remember
about hot water cornbread
is to wait for the burning
so you know when to flip it, and then again
so you know when it’s crusty and done.
Then eat it the way we did,
with our fingers,
our feet still tingling from dancing.
But remember that sometimes the burning
takes such a long time,
and in that time,

poems are born.

​For more information on Patricia Smith, please click here: http://www.wordwoman.ws/

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

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