Day 18 of National Poetry Month: Yesterday by C.S. Merwin

During a particularly hectic day last week, I tossed my mail on the table by the front door, thinking of it no more until days later, just this afternoon. For some reason, the pile caught my eye and one piece in particular found its way into my hand – a postcard from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, announcing an evening with W.S. Merwin, the United States Poet Laureate. He’ll be reading from and signing copies of his 2005 collection, Migration.

It’s one week from today. It’s free. I’m going. And I’m absolutely giddy about it!

Now, I admit to not being well-versed in details about our esteemed Poet Laureate, but I do know that he’s a two-time Pulitzer honoree and that I like his work – particularly his more recent collections. For me, the looser style is more accessible than the more traditional and formal structure of his earlier works. And the fact that I’ll be able to experience this poetry rock star up close and personal in my own city is beyond belief.

Did I mention that I’m giddy?

This video from Poetry Everywhere gives a brief biography before showing the poet himself reading his poem, “Yesterday,” published in 1983:



My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father’s hand the last time

he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don’t want you to feel that you
have to
just because I’m here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don’t want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do

–W.S. Merwin



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