Herewith, a lovely poem by my friend Steven Heighton from his new book (his fifth poetry collection) Patient Frame. Steve is also a prolific novelist, story writer and essayist. He has a fourteen-year-old daughter and recently took up hockey–has been trying to lure me into a comeback (not going to happen). Read him and look up his other books. Something here not to be missed.
There’s a final bedtime when the father reads
to his daughter under the half-moon lamp.
The wolf-eyed dog sits guard on the snowy
quilt at their feet—ears pricked, head upright
like a dragon on its hoard—while the daughter’s
new clock ticks on the dresser. When the father
shuts the book, neither feels in the cool sigh
cast from its pages a breath of the end—
and how can it be that this ritual
will not recur? True, this latest story
is over, Treasure Island, which held them
a dozen nights, but “the end” has arrived
this way often before. Maybe she’s tired
of the rite, or waking to a sense of herself
revised? Maybe he’s temporarily bored,
or unmoored, reading by duty or rote,
turning deeper inside his own concerns.
How does the end enter? There’s a hinging
like a book’s sewn spine in the raw matter
of time—that coded text, illegible—
and stretched too far, it goes. An innocent
break, the father off one weekend or the child
sleeping at a friend’s, followed by a night
or two she wants to read alone, or write,
for a change, in her new padlock journal.
She has no idea what has changed. She
can’t know that the enlargement of her life
demands small death after death, and this one,
the latest, is far from last. She will not
notice this death, being so intent on life—
so implied in its stretching crewelwork
Some nights later, suddenly,
writing cheques or checking email, he might
notice and wonder at the change. In a sense
such minor passings pre-enact his own.
For a moment he might lay down his pen,
forget the figures, peer over the roofline
and find she was right—Orion, rising,
is more blueprint of butterfly, or bird,
than hunter. How does it enter, through what rift
or flaw? Maybe it doesn’t enter at all.
It was there in every sentence: the end.
19 Responses to “Herself, Revised: Poem — Steven Heighton”
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.
Wow. Great poem. Thank you for sharing it.
Doug informs me that technological advances (that everyone else has already known about for years, no doubt) allow an author to REPLY to these posts. Perfect. I’m always touched when a reader takes the time to respond–whether in person, by email, or in a post like this. Thanks for your words.
My heart, stubborn though it is, cracked on reading this poem.
I meant “stubborn though it is,” although I like the thought of heart as a thought, so I’ll leave it (also cannot figure how to remove it).
Gwen, I caught the typo when I approved your comment. dg
My heart cracked on writing it—as if the act of writing it had somehow finalized and ratified the deep change out of which the poem arose. As Twain
(I think it was Twain) wrote: No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.
Thanks so much for your response.
My wife wants me to print and frame this poem for our daughter. Hi Gwen, by the way…you queen of aphorisms! 🙂
You Numero Cinq people are so kind!
I am inspired now to get over my
techno-aversions and start leaving posts of my own on websites/blogs, when I like something I read there.
I got chills.
I’m going to order his book. Thanks for posting.
It’s wonderful to hear that this poem has reached readers on a physical level, as I believe poetry should. It’s what I aim for, anyway; it’s what the poems I love have done for me. Thanks so much for this response.
Last night I took a cab–with a poetic cabbie–to the foreign film festival downtown. Trying to merge, the cabbie found traffic wouldn’t let us in.
“People rushing home to the end of their day,” he said.
Yes, I thought, remembering Girl, Revised. And what for?
My day started out with this lovely poem and then came full circle to thoughts that seemed to echo it.
Thank you for this beautiful poem! I love the imagery, how the poem itself seems to stretch time, and the simple yet profound questions that tear at the heart. I remember that moment of realizing that my older daughter no longer wanted me to read to her at bedtime, that she’d prefer to read to herself and was only humouring me.
You know, I just emailed a friend to say that life seems to pile loss on loss; that maybe the key to living well is learning to lose well, with grace and little regret, even with a sort of joy. You seem to be implying the same kind of thing in your comment. Thank you for it.