The bright-faced children have gone home,
trailing the sun to supper.
these others have come,
almost sweetly shy, starched
for their monthly party.
Nurse herds them into metal chairs.
I've come to sing, Nurse tells them,
and they fold their hands
--these lately mad who failed behind a door
or slipped under in a jammed street,
whose eyes blossomed like silver
fists in mirrors, in plate-glass windows.
Nurse is waiting for me.
So I sing for them,
for the boy
in the front row, groping
the stiff corners of his pockets;
for the ugly one in pink anklets
--her legs have never felt a razor,
though her wrist has; for him
whose fingers are eaten by ants; for her
whose face sags like a torn sack.
They do not like my songs,
but infinitely polite, they turn
their smiles up into the dark
as if a smile should fall softly,
obliquely, like rain.
"Home on the Range," Nurse calls out,
her sure fingers on the pulse of America.
I start in faltering voice,
half-forgetting those dead words
sung at campfires in the past.
One joins, and then another:
Home, home on the range. . .
Where the deer. . .
And the skies are. . .
The voices crack and lurch, we
are singing--the boy, the ugly one--
singing like crows in the empty
prairie of a children's playground
where if there are distances that shine
they shine like the eyes of pain.
from: From the Meadow: Selected and New Poems. Copyright 2004.