But if they’d give us toys and twice the stuff
most parents splurge on the average kid,
orphans, I submit, need more than enough;
in fact, stacks wrapped with our names nearly hid
the tree where sparkling allotments yearly
guaranteed a lack of—what?—family?—
I knew exactly what it was I missed:
(did each boy there feel the same denials?)
to share my pals’ tearing open their piles
meant sealing the self, the child that wanted
to scream at all You stole those gifts from me;
whose birthday is worth such words? The wish-lists
they’d made us write out in May lay granted
against starred branches. I said I’m sorry.
From I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems 1960-2014 by Bill Knott, edited by Thomas Lux. Copyright © 2017 by The Estate of Bill Knott. Reprinted/Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
the orange ball arcs perfectly into the orange hoop
making a sound like a drawer closing
you will never get to hold that
I am here and nothing terrible will ever happen
across the street the giant white house full of kids
turns the pages of an endless book
the mother comes home and finds the child animal sleeping
I left my notebook beside the bed
the father came home and sat and quietly talked
one square of light on the wall waiting patiently
I will learn my multiplication tables
while the woman in the old photograph looks in a different direction
My pants could maybe fall down when I dive off the diving board. My nose could maybe keep growing and never quit. Miss Brearly could ask me to spell words like stomach and special. (Stumick and speshul?) I could play tag all day and always be "it." Jay Spievack, who's fourteen feet tall, could want to fight me. My mom and my dad—like Ted's—could want a divorce. Miss Brearly could ask me a question about Afghanistan. (Who's Afghanistan?) Somebody maybe could make me ride a horse. My mother could maybe decide that I needed more liver. My dad could decide that I needed less TV. Miss Brearly could say that I have to write script and stop printing. (I'm better at printing.) Chris could decide to stop being friends with me. The world could maybe come to an end on next Tuesday. The ceiling could maybe come crashing on my head. I maybe could run out of things for me to worry about. And then I'd have to do my homework instead.
From If I Were in Charge of the World and Other Worries . . ., published by Macmillan, 1981. Used with permission.
—A simple child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.
"Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?"
"How many? Seven in all," she said,
And wondering looked at me.
"And where are they? I pray you tell."
She answered, "Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.
"Two of us in the churchyard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the churchyard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother."
"You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet maid, how this may be."
Then did the little maid reply,
"Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the churchyard lie,
Beneath the churchyard tree."
"You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the churchyard laid,
Then ye are only five."
"Their graves are green, they may be seen,"
The little maid replied,
"Twelve steps or more from my mother's door,
And they are side by side.
"My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.
"And often after sunset, sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
"The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.
"So in the churchyard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.
"And when the ground was white with snow
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side."
"How many are you, then," said I,
"If they two are in heaven?"
Quick was the little maid's reply,
"O master! we are seven."
"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
This poem is in the public domain.