Death in Childhood

Robert Hass

Which cover lightly, gentle earth!
—Ben Jonson

He was a solemn and delicate little boy.His father was a physicist, and I could seeon the day that I watched him on the beachin La Jolla, that the shell in his hand was no toyto him. He had learned to look at things.Also to treat information with great seriousness.So he studied it carefully and explained to methat the successive ridges on the curvaturewere the stages of its growth, and what formof carbon calcium was, and how evolutionhad worked its way up to invertebrates.He would brush back a shock of blond hairfrom his eyes to look up and see if I followed him.The hole in his heart was not what killed him;it was the way that his lungs had to laborbecause of the defect. The surf was breakingthrough irises of light, quick small rainbowsdown the beach as far as one could see.He had to have been a very avid listener.It seemed to me to mean that he’d been loved,and wanted to be like his father, which was whyit was so delicious to him to be talkingto almost any adult about all there is to know.

Feature Date

Series

Selected By

Share This Poem

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Print This Poem

Share on print
Photo of Robert Hass
Photo:
Margaretta K. Mitchell

Robert Hass’s most recent book of poems is Summer Snow, of prose A Little Book on Form, both from Ecco Press. Hass’s Time and Materials (Ecco) received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. He lives in Northern California where he taught for many years at the University of California at Berkeley.

“It all sounds like mastery, like singular virtuosity attained on a very popular instrument — common American speech.”
New York Times Book Review

"Hass personalizes everything, warms everything up. He’s an open book; but he’s also someone whom readers should, in every sense of the phrase, keep their eye on."
New Yorker

Poetry Daily Depends on You

With your support, we make reading the best contemporary poetry a treasured daily experience. Consider a contribution today.