by Stephen Dobyns
Now there is a slit in the blue fabric of air.
His house spins faster. He holds down books,
chairs; his life and its objects fly upward:
vanishing black specks in the indifferent sky.
The sky is a torn piece of blue paper.
He tries to repair it, but the memory
of death is like paste on his fingers
and certain days stick like dead flies.
Say the sky goes back to being the sky
and the sun continues as always. Now,
knowing what you know, how can you not see
thin cracks in the fragile blue vaults of air.
My friend, what can I give you or darkness
lift from you but fragments of language,
fragments of blue sky. You had three
beautiful daughters and one has died.
From Velocities: New and Selected Poems: 1966-1992 (Poets, Penguin)
What the writer says about the poem: I wrote the poem “Fragments” for Donald Murray who was a professor of English and Journalism at the University of New Hampshire and who was a close friend during the two years I taught there from 1971 to 1973. He was a big, booming Scot who wrote very small poems. Toward the end of that period, his daughter Ann, who I think was seventeen, contracted some sort of fatal flu that before that time was only contracted by children. Indeed, she was the oldest person who had caught it until then. She lay in the hospital for a week or so, and shortly after she became brain dead Don turned off the machine that kept her body alive. Don was very close to his children and this was a terrible blow to both him and his wife Minnie Mae. He had been in the war and had been an MP during the Battle of the Bulge. Often it seemed that every long conversation with him wound down to his memory of riding in a Jeep over the frozen bodies of his friends. After Ann died, he rarely spoke of the Battle of the Bulge, and instead nearly every long conversation wound down to the moment when flicked the switch of the machine that kept Ann’s body alive. It was dreadful to watch and feel his on-going grief. I tried to write a poem for him for a year, but without success. Then, one summer at Yaddo, the poem came very quickly when I was sitting on a window seat in the music room. It was done, except for some fussing, in less than ten minutes. It was as if the poem had taken control of my pen and written itself. Now Don and Minnie Mae have been dead for many years, and I don’t know what became of his other two daughters. More about Stephen Dobyns.