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A History of Mourning


It's odd that evening is so speckled with grief.
Birds start singing when the branch reddens.
But we write our poems when the sun goes down.

Our ancestors knew how to cry at death; but they
Had enough to do finding big stones to cover
The dead, and begetting new souls to replace them.

We slept on the limestone plains, and woke
Night after night, tracing the route the dead take
Through holes in limestone and on into the stars.

Some hands outlined with blown powder
On the walls of the cave have missing fingers.
We drew maps of the night sky in the dust.

How slowly it all went! One day a woman wept
When she saw a bone reddened with ochre.
A thousand years later, we put a bead in a grave.

Some graves stand among woods. We still don't
Understand why a pine coffin is so beautiful.
We are still brooding over why the sun rises.


Robert Bly

Stealing Sugar from the Castle: Selected and New Poems, 1950-2013
W. W. Norton


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