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Sample Poems by Robert Bernard Hass


I followed my breath each dawn to work the barn
My father’s father built with his bare hands
And local oak he prayed would never burn.

Daily its rafters creaked beneath the sun;
Two narrow shafts of chaff dust left me blind
To follow my breath around and work the barn.

Inside the stench fermented: mildewed corn,
Old burlap sacks, caked lime, and dung would blend
To sting my nose with an ammonia burn.

The bull in heat, I’d hide behind combines,
Taller than dinosaurs, and hear the sounds
Of slapping flanks and cud breath in the barn.

And when the great rats scuttled in the grain,
I’d sight their eyes in crosshairs, shoot them down,
And toss them on the compost heap to burn.

They smoldered there until their bodies turned
And sweetened up our fallow, runted land.
I followed my breath each dawn to work the barn
And prayed each night the old oak would not burn.


Out walking through a field I kicked a stone
Loose from the April mud that held it fast
And saw, as though just sprung up from its nest,
A budding tendril, bird-like, white as bone,

Craning its delicate neck to feed on sun.
Uplifted by such fierce resolve to live,
I marveled how the winded seed had sown
Itself in earth too dark and cold to give

Its leaves the opportunity to fly.
But fly they will, for like poor Lazarus
Who, divinely aided, heard the call to rise
Up in his joyful after-death, so this

Flower, guided only by my stumble,
Woke up beneath the stone that marked its grave.
How fortunate I felt that I had saved
From fickle wind this chicory or bramble,

And, in my mind, I saw a future yield
Of red or blue so vast it stunned my eyes.
But as I dreamed, a cloud darkened the field.
The wet side of the stone began to dry,

When, from the North, the wind started to gust.
Turning my collar up before I went,
I saw how shifts in fortune exact cost
And balance every scale. The accident

That gave the fated tendril life by light
Had doomed adjacent grass to darkest night.

Victorian Bride

Where scented apple blossoms blow,
I feel her shadow glide
Along the bough—its petal snow
The color of my bride.

The airs of artificial poise
That wreathe her thought like braids
Will not disclose the counterpoise
Or habits of my bride.

Her hair is washed in underlight;
In her the light subsides.
She cloaks the air about herself,
The caution of a bride,

Who on her wedding night performed
The terror of my bride
And heard her father in the room
Scold all that he forbade.