Poetry

William Stafford’s Last Poem

“You don’t have to
prove anything,” my mother said. “Just be ready
for what God sends.” I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.

– William Stafford


The poet William Stafford passed away unexpectedly on August 28th 1993. The previous day, he had met with a Life Insurance agent who had contacted him over a policy she had unearthed in his name. It had turned out to be for another person with the same name, but the meeting impacted Stafford to the point where the next morning, the morning of his death, he started his last poem with the words the agent had spoken to him over the phone: ‘Are you Mr. William Stafford?’ The poem rattles with augury gilded by a sense of acceptance – the images of sunlight following his hand as his memory jerks through streets of his youth; his mother’s words: ‘You don’t have to prove anything… Just be ready for what God sends,’ and his own feeling that ‘You can’t tell when strange things with meaning / will happen.’ After his death, and while reflecting on the significance of his last poem, his son Kim wrote of Stafford, ‘He was denied certainty, but blessed with a sense of engagement with what comes.’


“Are you Mr. William Stafford?”

“Are you Mr. William Stafford?”
“Yes, but. . . .”

Well, it was yesterday.
Sunlight used to follow my hand.
And that’s when the strange siren-like sound flooded
over the horizon and rushed through the streets of our town.
That’s when sunlight came from behind
a rock and began to follow my hand.

“It’s for the best,” my mother said—”Nothing can
ever be wrong for anyone truly good.”
So later the sun settled back and the sound
faded and was gone. All along the streets every
house waited, white, blue, gray; trees
were still trying to arch as far as they could.

You can’t tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I’m [still] here writing it down
just the way it was. “You don’t have to
prove anything,” my mother said. “Just be ready
for what God sends.” I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.

Well, it was yesterday. And the sun came,
Why
It came.

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