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David Budbill Poem Essays



The son sits at a table with the father
in a visiting room at the nursing home,
the two of them face to face across this round table
with a pitcher of water and two glasses between them,
and the son is saying:

I wish that you would talk to me. I hardly ever get to see you
and, you know, we don’t have much time left together.
There are so many things I want to talk with you about.
I wish so much that you would talk to me.

The father, who
is mostly deaf and somewhat blind and has palsy
and diabetes and shingles and heart failure,
does not look at the son, but looks instead at the pitcher,
and when the son is finished talking,
the father reaches for the pitcher to pour himself a glass of water,
but he is too weak to get the pitcher more than an inch or two above the table
and because he shakes he spills water on the table,
so he puts the pitcher down and the son gets up and gets a paper towel
and wipes up the water, and after he has done that
the son lifts the pitcher and pours them each a glass of water.

I wish that you would talk to me.
There are things I want to know, I need to know,
and only you can tell me. Did you ever have a lover?
Did mother? Did you ever want to leave her?
Did she ever want to leave you?
I want to know the answers to these questions.
I want to know. Why won’t you talk to me?

And the father, who has been staring at the pitcher,
looks up, looks squarely at his son,
so that the son feels like backing up,
like running away,
but instead the son says:

I bet you have a lot to talk about, a lot you’d like to say,
even though you won’t.

And the father, still staring at his son,
picks up the pitcher easily
and pours slowly
all its contents on the table.



Hi, Dad!
How have you been feeling?


How are your shingles?

They hurt.

How are your legs and feet?

They always hurt.

Are you able to breathe any easier?

It’s hard.

What have you been doing?


Are you watching any TV?


Are you reading?


Are you getting out?

No. They never take me out.

I wish I could see you, Poppa. . . .


I wish I could see you.

How’s the family?

We’re all fine.
I wish I could see you.

Thanks for calling.

I don’t want to hang up.
I want to talk some more.




Now he lies on a bed all day, the bed made
and he fully dressed, and
he sleeps,
his two hands pressed together and placed
under his head against his cheek,
he sleeps,
until the nurse comes to wake him for his meal,
whereupon he gets up and goes to eat with the others,
either walking if he feels particularly well that day
or riding in a wheelchair if he does not,

and when he has finished with his meal
he returns to his bed
and lies down again, and again
he sleeps
until his next meal or time to go to the bathroom,

and this is how he passes his days, his weeks, his months,
enduring the pain in his legs and feet, his diabetes,
the pain in his abdomen, his shingles,
and coughing now and then compulsively trying to expel
the liquid from his lungs, his congestive heart failure,
as he lies on his side all day as
he sleeps,
and he is also mostly deaf so that no one can really talk to him
nor can he talk to anyone nor does he care to or want to
nor does he read or watch TV, yet

when someone comes to see him
like me for example, on those rare occasions
when I can, he will look up at me and smile
and reach out to pull me toward him
to press my face to his and kiss me and sometimes
at these moments his eyes fill with tears and I
sit down in the chair beside the bed
and stroke his hair,
and again
he sleeps.

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David Budbill’s most recent book of poems, Judevine, was published in 1991 and was chosen by Booklist as one of the three best books of poetry that year. His newest play, Little Acts Of Kindness, will premier in Vermont in June.

More From This Contributor ▸
Bugs In A Bowl
Han Shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filledChinese poet of a thousand years ago, said:We’re just like bugs in a bowl.All day going aroundnever leaving their bowl.I say: That’s right! Every dayclimbing up the steep sides,sliding back. Over and over again.Around and around.Up and back down.Sit in the bottom of the bowl,head in your hands, cry, moan,feel sorry for yourself.Or.Look around.See your fellow bugs.Walk around. Say,Hey, how you doing?Say, Nice bowl!
Weather Report
The weather is horrible here on Judevine Mountain.It’s dark and cold all winter. Every day, rain and snowbeat on your head, and the sun never shines. Thenit’s spring and more rain, and ice and mud too. Andafter that, the black flies eat you alive, and then thedeer flies, and then the mosquitoes, and then it’s fallbefore you even noticed it was summer. Then theremight be a couple of weeks of decent weather andthen it starts to rain and snow again. It’s just awfulliving here. I don’t think you’d like it here at all.You’d better find your own miserable place to live.
Words To Myself
Ryōkan says: With whatcan I compare this life?Weeds floating on water.And there you are with yourdreams of immortalityfrom poetry,pretty pompous —don’t you think — for aweed floating on water?
Too Busy
Have ambition and ego ruined my life?Where have my easy days gone?If only I had a monk friend to wander offinto the mountains to visit. If only I wereso idle I had time to visit him. If only wecould while away the day drinking tea,playing flutes, and talking. If only, as themoon rose, my friend could point the wayhome through the dark mountains withthe night sky’s lantern to light the way.If only I were happy with only that.
Perched In These Green Mountains
Han Shan says, Perched in these green mountains,letting my hair grow white, pleased with the years gone by,happy with today.Imagine such contentment, happiness with yourself.Yet I know for Cold Mountain, tomorrow always broughtsomething else as well, for Han Shan also said,If you hide yourself away in the thickest woods,how will your wisdom’s light shine through?A bag of bones is not a sturdy vessel.Back and forth, back and forth.That’s the way it goes.Happy and content one day,ambition and desire eat you alive the next.It’s always been this way. Back and forth,back and forth. That’s the way it goes.

[“Cold Mountain” is another name for the poet Han Shan. — Ed.]

What We Need
The Emperor,his bulliesand henchmen,terrorize the worldevery daywhich is whyevery daywe needa little poemof kindness,a small songof peace,a brief momentof joy.

“Bugs in a Bowl,” “Weather Report,” “Words to Myself,” “Too Busy,” “Perched in These Green Mountains,” and “What We Need” are from While We’ve Still Got Feet by David Budbill. Copyright © 2005 by David Budbill. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

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