Our Turn

When we, as children, sat at Mother’s table
And heard the talk that circled round the board—
Which aunt had put up pears, and who was able
To can a mess of beans and still accord
Some time to sewing for the Ladies’ Aid,
Which man had suffered illness, which one tossed
Away his life just as his debts were paid:
These things we learned and scarcely knew our loss;
We passed the days and hoped that we might earn
The privilege of speaking out of turn.

We children asked the blessing for the meal
That kept us sitting up in straight-back chairs.
We must not squirm, or ask for a repeal
Of clean-plate laws. Impertinent who dares
To challenge the decorum grown-ups need.
And so we pushed our peas around our plates,
Not having, really, any case to plead,
And chewed on scraps of weather, haystacks, hates.
We passed the hours and thought that we would spurn
Such niceties of discourse in our turn.

Winner, The Robert Haiduke Prize
The Bread Loaf School of English, 1997