How do you tell a child that he is dying?
This poem terrified me. It made me never want to have a child. What if this were to happen to my child?
Literature cannot solve all of our problems, but it can be a salve to many of them.
In talking to my old high school friend, Dr. Lamar Johnson, about this emotional issue, I came to appreciate the grandiosity of life and our role in society. Dr Johnson is a pediatrician who has to think about how to deliver terrible news to people. How do you cope? How do you convey this experience? For me, it was a cathartic moment. That's poetry. Dr. Johnson and I conversed with the verse. And we also talked more broadly about life, philosophy, how to tell the truth, race relations, culture and oh so much more.
A SICK CHILD
by Randall Jarrell
The postman comes when I am still in bed.
"Postman, what do you have for me today?"
I say to him. (But really I'm in bed.)
Then he says - what shall I have him say?
"This letter says that you are president
Of - this word here; it's a republic."
Tell them I can't answer right away.
"It's your duty." No, I'd rather just be sick.
Then he tells me there are letters saying everything
That I can think of that I want for them to say.
I say, "Well, thank you very much. Good-bye."
He is ashamed, and turns and walks away.
If I can think of it, it isn't what I want.
I want . . . I want a ship from some near star
To land in the yard, and beings to come out
And think to me: "So this is where you are!
Come." Except that they won't do,
I thought of them. . . . And yet somewhere there must be
Something that's different from everything.
All that I've never thought of - think of me!