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Book of Hours

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A decade after the sudden and tragic loss of his father, we witness the unfolding of grief. “In the night I brush / my teeth with a razor,” he tells us, in one of the collection’s piercing two-line poems. Capturing the strange silence of bereavement (“Not the storm / but the calm / that slays me”), Kevin Young acknowledges, even celebrates, life’s passages, his loss transformed and tempered in a sequence about the birth of his son: in “Crowning,” he delivers what is surely one of the most powerful birth poems written by a man, describing “her face / full of fire, then groaning your face / out like a flower, blood-bloom,/ crocused into air.” Ending this book of both birth and grief, the gorgeous title sequence brings acceptance, asking “What good/are wishes if they aren’t / used up?” while understanding “How to listen / to what’s gone.” Young’s frank music speaks directly to the reader in these elemental poems, reminding us that the right words can both comfort us and enlarge our understanding of life’s mysteries.

ISBN-13: 9780375711886

Media Type: Paperback(Reprint)

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publication Date: 10-13-2015

Pages: 208

Product Dimensions: 6.03(w) x 8.97(h) x 0.58(d)

Kevin Young is the author of seven previous books of poetry, including Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, winner of a 2012 American Book Award, and Jelly Roll, a finalist for the National Book Award. He is also the editor of eight other collections, most recently The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink. Young’s book The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, and won a PEN Open Book Award. He is currently the Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English, curator of Literary Collections and curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University.

Read an Excerpt

Behind his house, my father’s dogs sleep in kennels, beautiful,
he built just for them.

They do not bark.
Do they know he is dead?
They wag their tails

& head. They beg
& are fed.
Their grief is colossal

& forgetful.
Each day they wake seeking his voice,

their names.
By dusk they seem to unremember everything—

to them even hunger is a game. For that, I envy.
For that, I cannot bear to watch them

pacing their cage. I try to remember they love best confined space to feel safe. Each day

a saint comes by to feed the pair
& I draw closer the shades.

I’ve begun to think of them as my father’s other sons,
as kin. Brothers-in-paw.

My eyes each day thaw.
One day the water cuts off.
Then back on.

They are outside dogs—
which is to say, healthy
& victorious, purposeful

& one giant muscle like the heart. Dad taught them not to bark, to point

out their prey. To stay.
Were they there that day?
They call me

like witnesses & will not say.
I ask for their care
& their carelessness—

wish of them forgiveness.
I must give them away.
I must find for them homes,

sleep restless in his.
All night I expect they pace as I do, each dog like an eye

roaming with the dead beneath an unlocked lid.

Memorial Day
Thunder knocks loud on all the doors.

Lightning lets you inside every house,
white flooding

the spare, spotless rooms.
Flags at half mast.

And like choirboys,
clockwork, the dogs ladder their voices

to the dark, echoing off each half-hid star.

It never ends, the bruise of being—messy,
untimely, the breath

of newborns uneven, half pant, as they find their rhythm, inexact

as vengeance. Son,
while you sleep we watch you like a kettle

learning to whistle.
Awake, older,
you fumble now

in the most graceful way—grateful to have seen you, on your own

steam, simply eating, slow,
chewing—this bloom of being. Almost beautiful

how you flounder, mouth full, bite the edges of this world that doesn’t want

a thing but to keep turning with, or without you—
with. With. Child, hold fast

I say, to this greening thing as it erodes and spins.

Table of Contents

Obsequies 3

(Domesday Book)

Elegy, Father's Day 9

Bereavement 10

Act Now & Save 12

Effects 13

Rue 16

Bereavement Fare 19

Mercy 20

Near Miss 22

Grief 24

Solace 25

Rosetta 29

Charity 30

Exit Music 33

Flag Day 36

Asylum 38

(The Book of Forgetting)

Hurry Up & Wait 43

Wintering 45

Snow in April 47

Easter 48

Dream the Day after Easter 50

Spring Training 51

Pity 52

Remains 54

Codicil 57

Memorial Day 60

Grief 61

Father's Day 62

Elegy 64

Harvest 65

Anniversary 67


Miscarriage 73

Expecting 75

Starting to Show 77

Ultrasound 78

First Kick 80

Linea Nigra 82

Montagne Noire 84

Gravida 85

Quickening 86

Lightening 87

Netting 89

Labor Day 91

Breaking Water 93

Nativity 95

Crowning 96

Colostrum 98

Jaundice 99

Rooting 102

Beat ting 104

Teething 108

Teething 109

Teething 110

Teething 111

Greening 112

Thirst 113

Blessings 116

(The Book of the Body)

Pietà 121

Truce 122

Stigmata 123

Limbo 124

Ruth 125

The Book of the Body 130

Annunciation 132

Annunciation 133

Stillborn 135

Arbor Day 137

City of God 139

Memorial Day 140

Sight 142

Miracle Removal 144

Sorrow 145

Pilgrimage 146

Lower Haight 149

Gravity 150

The Mission 152

(Book of Hours)

The light here leaves you 159

The burnt, blurred world 161

Black like an eye 162

Leaving the valley 163

The sun's small fury 165

You could spend 167

Damn the dark 169

The few fields 170

How to listen 172

The dark must live 174

Winter's thunder 175

Does the wind wonder 176

My brother 178

Bodies are built 179

It's death there 180