Poetry Friday: That Certainty by Helen Frost

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On Wednesday, I interviewed Helen Frost. Today I share her poem “That Certainty” which is included in the new anthology, A Ritual to Read to Each Other: Poems in Conversation with William Stafford.

That Certainty

People think they’re good because
somebody hit them when they weren’t.
They say Ya gotta teach em—
dogs or kids—how else they gonna learn?
I don’t answer, never have known how
to say No, you’d be good anyway.
I’m sure of it.

That certainty—I’m right,
you’re wrong—is what somebody
hit them with a long long time ago.

When I neither argue nor agree
they glance at me, then look away,
and back, and in that flash
before our talk moves on, I see
the child in that moment
just before the slap, the fist,
the tongue-lash taught them
they were bad, they had to learn
how to be good.
Helen Frost

Reprinted with permission of the author; copyright Pecan Grove Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2009.

This Sunday, January 17, at Powell’s Bookstore on Hawthorne, a celebration of William Stafford’s life and legacy and a launch book will be held. Kim Stafford with be there and will the Oregon Poet Laureate, Paulann Peterson.

Poetry Friday is held at Keri Recommends. Thanks, Keri.

Happy Friday. Happy poetry.
MsMac

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9 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: That Certainty by Helen Frost

  1. William Stafford is such a wonderful poet, Jone, and deserves to be read by a much larger audience. I’m eager to see the anthology that Helen’s poem is included in. Thanks for the heads-up.

  2. Wow, what an eye-opening poem. What do we do to our children? Are you attending the celebration on Sunday? If so, have fun, and take notes!

  3. I love Helen Frost’s novels-in-verse, but I’ve never read anything like this from her before. I’m especially struck by these lines:
    >>the tongue-lash taught them
    they were bad, they had to learn
    how to be good.<<

    Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. I see
    the child in that moment
    just before the slap, the fist,
    the tongue-lash taught them
    they were bad, they had to learn
    how to be good.

    These lines haunt me, too. Yes, it’s that instant of innocence that serves as a reservoir of hope, I think.

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  6. I’m glad of your reminder in the Celebration post. This is wonderful and heart-breaking all at the same time. I wonder about the adult who sticks to believes like super glue, and this poem shows how it can be. Thanks Jone!

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