What did the milk know
when my youngest spilled it
from a cup all those mealtimes
except to follow the long slant

of our table that led to my lap,
and what did the four
children know when I rose
to invoke the name of our Lord,

except to laugh, then laugh
because they shouldn’t, and how
could my son, the lover of books,
who crawled under our new

mattress to discover a curtained
chamber, read to himself without
lighting the candle? He was no less
surprised than I was, waking up

from my nap and smelling smoke,
that he’d set the box-springs
on fire, and when my two oldest
gazed, as if for the first time,

at the topmost windows
of our rented barn feeling
an itch in their fingers for stones
small enough to fly,

what were they to do but search
for them? It was only delight
that called their attention
to the milk that jogged past

their plates down our table,
and to the candle that lit up
the chamber, and to the sharp,
winged stones, and when I

warned them or chased them
or drew them toward me for my
explanations, it was only delight
I wanted myself, my lessons

breaking into shouts, my spent
lungs struggling for breath.

Hear Wes McNair read this poem.