For My Nephew Going to Bed

It takes a whole house to put a child to bed.
I wonder what he dreams worth all the business
Of washing, inspecting, kissing, and being carried
Pick-a-back for all the aunts to witness
He’s one day older and on his way like us all
To being sorry for it. I recall
Times when a smile was its own good moral:
Laugh and the world’s half saved,
Be gently thoughtful, wash, comb, eat your cereal,
And God will always know you’re well behaved
And must not be aimed at by unemployment, shrapnel,
Eviction, delirium tremens, or sin’s black market,
Nor be allowed to grow like your uncle—mad
With measuring our unbalanced etiquette,
Where normally to put one child to bed
Takes more commotion than half the world’s corpses get.
While I stand stupid-solemn, a little daft,
Surprised that I have this much pity left.

From The Collected Poems of John Ciardi (University of Arkansas Press, 1997), edited by Edward M. Cifelli. Copyright © 1997 by the Ciardi Family Publishing Trust. Used with the permission of the publisher.