Thursday, December 6, 2007

“A Poem for Emily,” by Miller Williams

p. 169

Small fact and fingers and farthest one from me,
a hand’s width and two generations away,
in this still present I am fifty-three.
You are not yet a full day.

When I am sixty-three, when you are ten,
and you are neither closer nor as far,
your arms will fill with what you know by then,
the arithmetic and love we do and are.

When I by blood and luck am eighty-six
and you are someplace else and thirty-three
believing in sex and God and politics
with children who look not at all like me,

sometime I know you will have read them this
so they will know I love them and say so
and love their mother. Child, whatever is
is always or never was. Long ago

a day I watched awhile beside your bed,
I wrote this down, a thing that might be kept
awhile, to tell you what I would have said
when you were who knows what and I was dead
which is I stood and loved you while you slept.

This is not so much tongue-twister of a poem — it’s a brain-twister, playfully joyous in its language like something you’d chant to jump rope to. I like how it leaps over the years, replaying the way you instantly start to figure how old you’ll be when this new baby is such-and-such an age. And I like the love in this poem: the grandfather’s confidence that she will grow up to repeat to her children this poem about how much he loves her. His unquestioning confidence that he loves her children, too, sight unseen. And his unspoken confidence that just as he “stood and loved you while you slept,” so she’ll stand and love him while he lies “sleeping” in death.

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