Monday, February 11, 2013

PTSW: Questions at Night

Louis Untermeyer's questions are from his Golden Treasury of Poetry which was a bedside mainstay when my daughters were small. We would sometimes make operettas of the poems in this book which Aunt Wilma had given Sheila, their mother, when more than thrity years before.

Questions at Night

WhyIs the sky?
What starts the thunder overhead?Who makes the crashing noise?Are the angels falling out of bed?Are they breaking all their toys?
Why does the sun go down so soon?Why do the night-clouds crawlHungrily up to the new-laid moonAnd swallow it, shell and all?
If there's a Bear among the stars,As all the people say,Won't he jump over those Pasture-barsAnd drink up the Milky Way?
Does every star that happens to fallTurn into a fire-fly?Can't it ever get back to Heaven at all?And whyIs the sky? 

by Louis Untermeyer

I've had a few questions at night myself over the years. It is interesting to me to think that I was dealing with such basic and terrifying questions as I did at five or six, but I know they happened to me while lying in the back window of our early fifties Chevy, on a starry, starry night, and a cold one, on the long trip between Georgia and Kentucky. Here is a prose poem I wrote about that experience.

Beyond Stars

A Prose Poem

Before seatbelts, infant carseats, and airbags, when I could sometimes drive in my Daddy's lap or ride with the security of his wing my only restraint, Mama and my sisters crowded with us into the long black 'fifty Chevy the one with the wide shelf under a sloping back window for the long drive to Kentucky.
We sang, laughed, argued and slept for three hundred winding miles through the mountains to the bluegrass.
As the sun set on our winter drive, the mountains bled red ice where the road cut the steep slopes. Then the dark wrapped our speeding little world up tight and we slept: the baby in Mama's arms; the toddler in the crook of Daddy's wing; my two older sisters on opposite sides of the big back seat, legs meshed in the middle; my next younger sister curled in a blanket with her arms folded across the warm hump in the floor; and my full length wedged into a private half-chysalis in the back window; young cheek pressed against the waking cold glass.
I didn't look up until I could arrange myself comfortably, a wadded jacket pillow under my head. I closed my eyes; turned them toward the black sky; let them adjust to dark; then peeked into the universe of stars.
A quarter inch of safety glass shielded me from a billion distant hellfires in the wide sky. I refused to avoid the terrible sight. I determined to think beyond the farthest, tiniest light. Then beyond that as far again, and again and beyond that, and beyond that. To the mind of God. And beyond that.
As my head inflated with the terrible expansion of thought I tore my tiny face from the window to the silhouette of my parents against the headlighted pavement rolling toward us and pulled my family around me like a blanket against a private winter.
Later, home in the top bunk, I waked, terrified by a dream of the Milky Way racing toward me like lighted pavement in the dark. I stumbled to my father's lap. He put down the book and held me and I slept.
Who will hold me now?

by Terrell Shaw

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