881. Wisdom, by Sara Teasdale

It was a night of early spring,
    The winter-sleep was scarcely broken;
Around us shadows and the wind
    Listening for what was never spoken.

Though half a score of years are gone,
    Spring comes as sharply now as then—
But if we had it all to do
    It would be done the same again.

It was a spring that never came,
    But we have lived enough to know
What we have never had, remains;
    It is the things we have that go.

Source: Collected Poems of Sara Teasdale

882. Fable For When There's No Way Out, by May Swenson

Grown too big for his skin,
and it grown hard,

without a sea and atmosphere—
he's drunk it all up—

his strength's inside him now,
but there's no room to stretch.

He pecks at the top
but his beak's too soft;

though instinct or ambition shoves,
he can't get through.

Barely old enough to bleed
and already bruised!

In a case this tough
what's the use

if you break your head
instead of the lid?

Despair tempts him
to just go limp:

Maybe the cell's
already a tomb,

and beginning end
in this round room.

Still, stupidly he pecks
and pecks, as if from under

his own skull—
yet makes no crack...

No crack until
he finally cracks,

and kicks and stomps.
What a thrill

and shock to feel
his little gaff poke

through the floor!
A way he hadn't known or meant.

Rage works if reason won't.
When locked up, bear down.

Source: New and Selected Things Taking Place

883. Looking Across the River, by William Stafford

We were driving the river road.
It was at night. "There's the island,"
someone said. And we all looked across
at the light where the hermit lived.

"I'd be afraid to live there"—
it was Ken the driver who spoke.
He shivered and let us feel
the fear that made him shake.

Over to that dark island
my thought had already crossed—
I felt the side of the house
and the night wind unwilling to rest.

For the first time in all my life
I became someone else:
it was dark; others were going their way;
the river and I kept ours.

We came on home that night;
the road led us on. Everything
we said was louder—it was hollow,
and sounded dark like a bridge.

Somewhere I had lost someone—
so dear or so great or so fine
that I never cared again: as if
time dimmed, and color and sound were gone.

Come for me now, World—
whatever is near, come close.
I have been over the water
and lived there all alone.

Source: The Darkness Around Us is Deep: Selected Poems

884. Ken, by Charlotte Mew

The town is old and very steep
 A place of bells and cloisters and grey towers,
And black clad people walking in their sleep —
 A nun, a priest, a woman taking flowers
 To her new grave; and watched from end to end
 By the great Church above, through the still hours:
  But in the morning and the early dark
The children wake to dart from doors and call
Down the wide, crooked street, where, at the bend,
  Before it climbs up to the park,
Ken's is in the gabled house facing the Castle wall.

When first I came upon him there
Suddenly, on the half-lit stairs,
I think I hardly found a trace
Of likeness to a human face
 In his. And I said then
If in His image God made men
Some other must have made poor Ken —
But for his eyes which looked at you
As two red, wounded stars might do.

He scarcely spoke, you scarcely heard,
  His voice broke off in little jars
To tears sometimes. An uncouth bird
 He seemed as he ploughed up the street,
Groping, with knarred, high-lifted feet
 And arms thrust out as if to beat
  Always against a threat of bars.
 And oftener than not there'd be
 A child just higher than his knee
Trotting beside him. Through his dim
 Long twilight this, at least, shone clear,
 That all the children and the deer,
  Whom every day he went to see
Out in the park, belonged to him.

 'God help the folk that next him sits
 He fidgets so, with his poor wits,'
The neighbours said on Sunday nights
When he would go to Church to 'see the lights!'
 Although for these he used to fix
 His eyes upon a crucifix
 In a dark corner, staring on
 Till everybody else had gone.
 And sometimes, in his evil fits,
You could not move him from his chair —
You did not look at him as he sat there,
 Biting his rosary to bits.
While pointing to the Christ he tried to say,
 'Take it away.'

  Nothing was dead:
He said 'a bird' if he picked up a broken wing,
  A perished leaf or any such thing
  Was just 'a rose'; and once when I had said
 He must not stand and knock there any more,
 He left a twig on the mat outside my door.

  Not long ago
The last thrush stiffened in the snow,
 While black against a sullen sky
  The sighing pines stood by.
But now the wind has left our rattled pane
To flutter the hedge-sparrow's wing,
The birches in the wood are red again
  And only yesterday
The larks went up a little way to sing
  What lovers say
 Who loiter in the lanes to-day;
 The buds begin to talk of May
 With learned rooks on city trees,
  And if God please
  With all of these
We, too, shall see another Spring.

But in that red brick barn upon the hill
 I wonder — can one own the deer,
And does one walk with children still
  As one did here —
  Do roses grow
Beneath those twenty windows in a row —
  And if some night
When you have not seen any light
They cannot move you from your chair
  What happens there?
  I do not know.

  So, when they took
Ken to that place, I did not look
  After he called and turned on me
  His eyes. These I shall see —

Source: Charlotte Mew and Her Friends