KR OnlinePoetrySpecial Collections


My mother, poor woman, lies tonight
in her last bed. It’s snowing, for her, in her darkness.
I swallow down the goodbyes I won’t get to use,
tasteless, with wretched mouth-water.
Whatever we are, she and I, we’re nearly cured.

The night years ago when I walked away
from that final class of junior high school students
in Pittsburgh, the youngest of them ran after me
down the dark street. “Goodbye!” she called,
snow swirling across her face, tears falling.

Tears have kept on falling. History
has lent them its slanted understanding
of the human face. After each last embrace the dying give
the snow lets fall faster its disintegrating curtain.
The mind shreds the present, once the past is over.

In the Derry graveyard where only her longings sleep
and armfuls of flowers go out in the drizzle
the bodies not yet risen must lie nearly forever . . .
“Sprouting good Irish grass,” the graveskeeper blarneys,
he can’t help it, “a sprig of shamrock, if they were young.”

In Pittsburgh tonight, those who were young
will be less young, those who were old, more old, or more likely
no more; and the street where Syllest,
fleetest of my darlings, caught up with me
and hugged me and said goodbye, will be empty. Well,

one day the streets all over the world will be empty—
already, in heaven, listen, the golden cobblestones have fallen still—
everyone’s arms will be empty, everyone’s mouth, the Derry earth.
It is written in our hearts, the emptiness is all.
That is how we have learned, the embrace is all.

Kenyon Review logo
Galway Kinnell was the author of ten books of poetry, including The Book of Nightmares, When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone, Imperfect Thirst, and most recently A New Selected Poems and Strong is Your Hold.