13-1 poetry

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.


A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

13.1 (Winter 2013)





Young Bird Takes Wing

George Shirley  

“When I see the grains of rice

Sprout from the offerings you made

At the door of your hut,

How shall I calm my sorrow!”

            Kalidasa, Shakuntala (end of Act IV)

Not the rice grains, but their tall green shoots
Shakuntala’s father saw about the altar
Even while her last hug made his neck bow, weighed
Already with the coming solitude of years.
Bent, his eyes saw not mere sprouts, but shoots–
Tall green blades matured in childless silence,
No whispered girl talk, giggles, barefoot bustle–
No sound any louder than stubble drinking sun,
No movement any swifter.  He heard a world where quiet
Was seen, and sunbeams heard: a home without a daughter,
A future without future, an ever-present present
Lacking any rhythms timing his own aging–
As natural as stalk from grain–in downward motion
From harvester of rice to mud in which rice grows.
Feeling her lean ribs, he heard life falling still
And rode her sob surprised, never before suspecting
Just there, just beyond her, such an abyss to yawn.
The veiny furrows notching his backhand tendons
Were not more familiar than his garden’s… but this chasm
Something new appeared.  There all the while, yet never
Seen till now: before, veiled ever by seen things,
A gap-trap which illusions made to seem sure footing.
Through her arms he’d thrust his neck into a time-snare,
Still and silent lifeless life without a daughter.
Life of no more time, of seeds-shoots-harvest-seedlings–
Of one green blur, and so of death invisible.
Her trembles finely pattered a lid to airtight seal.

And so we bless them on their way, our sons and daughters:
Off to college, marriage, mission, internship…
Off to fly the world, to shake free the nest’s straw.
They fear, but exult, their gaze horizon-blinded.
We cannot chide them that unnoticed go
The deaths they leave behind: the boxes in closets
We will take out now that, at long last, we can clean–
But really opening graves, revisiting little hands
That clever worked a toy, pajamas just as high
As our shoulder while we kneel, stick drawings in Crayola
Of a brave new world, thin hardbacks full of poems
Wishing sweet dreams in words hard to misspell…
G.I. Joe’s canteen and Barbie’s glass slipper
(Somehow stored away while Joe and Barbie vanished),
Lovable T-Rexes, xylophones, log cabin
Relics , dwarves of cars not offering real rides
For decades now… kaleidoscopes , batons, and Halloween masks
Cracked in plastic ruin but stored for what they held
Of a time–a happy time–we thought we might remember
Years later at a mere flash of their grotesque leers…
But now we can recognize only the hope of memory,
Bright details all flown.  They cannot know what deaths
They leave us in those closets.  We must not ever, ever
Heap so impossible an expectation on them.
Life orders that they should leave, and leave us full of life’s
Vast emptiness in fragments.  It is life’s fulfillment
To be thus emptied of life’s nurtured cycle.
Happiness harvested is age’s abyss of silence.
Some day, may they also have the blessing of such grief.


The Last Christmas Lights

George Shirley

The Year Twelve ends in Christmas lights.
Suburban blocks of dismal gray
Soon to freeze in Thirteen’s bite
Hint for now at winter play.

Soiled shadows in the night–
Nooks with garbage pails arrayed,
Chain-link pens where dogs may bite–
For a month by stars are framed.

Spirals red and twinkles white,
Strings that spell a joyous name,
Manger scenes whose plug from sight
Underneath the cradle stays–

Frosty, luminous with pipe,
Top hat, scarf, and twiggy wave–
Santa with his laugh so bright
Stalking chimneys in his sleigh–

Have from shelves at Wal-Mart hiked
Into every sordid space.
Home Depot stocks Three Men Wise:
Lowe’s has flashing candy canes.

Almost is one put in mind
Of some proverb turned cliché:
“Darkest is the troubled night
Just before the dawn of day.”

Stars to earth have fall’n despite
All our shades of sordid gray.
Just where most the tunnel’s tight,
There pricks childhood’s winking ray.

Surely not a nation’s night
Can unending for us gape:
Surely squalid plebiscites
Nothing are but kids at play.

Surely hope at last revives–
Surely menace goes away.
Every year has Christmas lights.
All years end with kiss and cake.

Never has my heart so tight
Watched the seasonal display.
Grown-up children one last time
Hope for gifts on Christmas Day.

One last time, from chasmic night
Hope they to an exit frame
With a string of twinkling lights:
Once more, “last” they would evade.

Children once the stars of Christ,
Addicts now of Christmas games…
Who can laugh that children cry
When the music no more plays?

Year Thirteen behind the lights
Rustles in a dismal gray;
No more fenced, its fatal bite
Only for the snows awaits.


George Shirley lives in the Clemson (South Carolina) area.  He has studied theology and, in recent years, taught English at various high schools and colleges throughout the Southeast.