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Prayer Against the Furies

ISSUE:  Winter 1938

Beside a window open to the night Within a house where the deceptive clock Runs but one day and stops and never strikes,
They come to find him waiting, shoulders still bent,
Worn head still brighter than the dark outside.
For Johnston, dead at Shiloh; for Jackson, dead At Chancellorsville—he whose fever burned More in the heart than in the head; for these He prays the futile first.
They can contrive No ghostly unrest, for they have surrendered Even the taste of dust, salt to their tongues.
For Raiford, dying upright in his chair Long past the end of war, yet in war dying;
For Susan, waiting in the darkened hall: For all of them this prayer: Give them peace.

But for the children who come back once more To find him, strange, incredible, staring down,
And for their children who will still return To find him waiting still, beyond belief: He can but pray them strength to lie in quiet,
Hearing the drouth move through the bitter fields.
He prays them strength that they may never wake When sunlight chips sharp edges in the dawn: The weathered barns, the six pines on the ridge,
The ragged fence that lattices the sky,
Come outlined sharply as the marble edge After the sculptor’s first definitive stroke.
He prays them strength that they may never wake,
Foreseeing this:
They nurse upon their laps Flesh of their flesh bred boneless; it will mouth The fathers’ breasts, go foodless, at last beg Only the boon of darkness; the firelight Defines them clearly.
He foresees at last The unnourished tongue when it has mastered speech Cursing the fathers.
And at last foresees How in the shame of their outrageous deeds They look up—startled by that clamorous sound—
To recognize the hollow scarecrow forms Crouched waiting on the columns of the house.


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