Friday, September 16, 2011

I Wish I'd Written This

After reading this, I believe I know every important thing about his Bess.
By William E. Stafford 

Ours are the streets where Bess first met her  
cancer. She went to work every day past the   
secure houses. At her job in the library
she arranged better and better flowers, and when   
students asked for books her hand went out   
to help. In the last year of her life
she had to keep her friends from knowing   
how happy they were. She listened while they
complained about food or work or the weather.   
And the great national events danced   
their grotesque, fake importance. Always

Pain moved where she moved. She walked   
ahead; it came. She hid; it found her.   
No one ever served another so truly;   
no enemy ever meant so strong a hate.   
It was almost as if there was no room   
left for her on earth. But she remembered
where joy used to live. She straightened its flowers;   
she did not weep when she passed its houses;   
and when finally she pulled into a tiny corner   
and slipped from pain, her hand opened
again, and the streets opened, and she wished all well.

from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems.

Click on the title to go to's posting of Bess.  Click on the poet's name to learn more about William E. Stafford.


  1. Sometimes I walk by similar houses full of souls with Life's disproportinate concerns.

    This piece truly encapsulates my insight and feelings albeit in the absence of Bess's insidious terminal malady and pain.

  2. That was a beautiful, touching portrait of Bess.
    I especially like the line "she had to keep her friends from knowing how happy they were". That is so true. We really never take the time to realize how good we've got it - until it's too late...
    Thank you for this poem.


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