“August” by William Stafford

It comes up out of the ocean
warm days. It reaches
for inland meadows and sighs
across grass in its cape of rain.

People come to their doors.
They look where the trees turn
gray, where hills have stepped back
of each other. Whatever it was,

It passed carefully, touching
farms, leaning over ponds,
bending down the wheat.
People stand long at their doors.

“You were good this time, August
Old Friend. So long. So long.”

William Stafford, The Body Electric: America’s Best Poetry from The American Poetry Review

“When William Stafford Died” by Robert Bly

Well, water goes down the Montana gullies.
“I’ll just go around this rock and think
About it later.” That’s what you said.
When death came, you said, “I’ll go there.”

There’s no sign you’ll come back. Sometimes
My father sat up in the coffin and was alive again.
But I think you were born before my father,
And the feet they made in your time were lighter.

One dusk you were gone. Sometimes a fallen tree
Holds onto a rock, if the current is strong.
I won’t say my father did that, but I won’t
Say he didn’t either. I was watching you both.

If all a man does is to watch from the shore,
Then he doesn’t have to worry about the current.
But if affection has put us into the stream,
Then we have to agree to where the water goes.

~ Robert Bly, from Stealing Sugar From the Castle: Selected Poems, 1950 to 2013

William Edgar Stafford (January 17, 1914 – August 28, 1993)


Listen to Robert Bly read select Stafford pieces in the video below. Bly reads his own poem, “When William Stafford Died,” at timestamp 11:11.

From Minnesota Men’s Conference‘s YouTube description:

Robert Bly reads selected poems by William Stafford shortly after his passing, discussing in personal terms exactly what made him a legend, culminating in a powerful poem written to his late friend. Recorded at the 1993 Minnesota Men’s Conference.


“A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


“A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems © Graywolf Press.


(With a grateful nod to long-time reader “Strumsky” who has mentioned this as a favorite poem in comments past; I didn’t forget. ❤  A poignant poem for a world that seems to be “lost in the dark.” One of my favorites. ~Christy)


“Cherries” by Barbara La Morticella

Fireweed loves the yard
and the fire that conjured it
into the light.

And the scarlet elderberry
loves the old junkpile
          it leans against.

The morning glory smothers everything
in an embrace: the fence,
the wood workbench,
the rusted steel.

Here’s a summer day that’s so slow
even the light
          moves like honey;

Daisies jump fences
          and then just mill around.

Here’s a cherry tree that’s so rich
when it offers its heart to the birds,

every cherry
          is a year of cherries.

“Cherries” by Barbara LaMorticella


Barbara very kindly allowed us to feature “Cherries” here on Words for the Year, and even included this little bit of backstory. As I know many of you are William Stafford fans (waves to James R. especially), I thought you would enjoy her note:

I’m happy you like Cherries!   You may be interested in the back story:   I began this poem after I got back from a workshop with William Stafford (his one-week summer workshop was 1/3 of my formal poetry education!) I wasn’t able to finish it for a while (lacking Stafford’s famous ability to write a poem a day by simply saying “welcome, welcome” to everything that comes). But the last line came to me the next summer,  and I thought of Stafford… at 80,  it would be heartening to realize that every cherry is a year of cherries!  I presented it to him the summer after the workshop at what may have been the last poetry reading he gave before he died.



“Freedom” by William Stafford

Freedom is not following a river.
Freedom is following a river
     though, if you want to.

It is deciding now by what happens now.
It is knowing that luck makes a difference.

No leader is free; no follower is free–
     the rest of us can often be free.
Most of the world are living by
creeds too odd, chancy, and habit-forming
     to be worth arguing about by reason.

If you are oppressed, wake up about
four in the morning; most places
you can usually be free some of the time
     if you wake up before other people.

from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems
Copyright 1998 by Graywolf Press


This week of Words is being hosted by poet Brian Dean Powers. We hope you enjoy his selections. Brian shares his poetry at The Body’s Heated Speech. I hope you will stop by to say hello. Thank you, Brian, for your support and for the beautiful Words. ~ Christy