Donald Justice

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Counting the Mad

This one was put in a jacket,

This one was sent home,

This one was given bread and meat   

But would eat none,

And this one cried No No No No   

All day long.
This one looked at the window

As though it were a wall,

This one saw things that were not there,   

This one things that were,

And this one cried No No No No   

All day long.

This one thought himself a bird,   

This one a dog,

And this one thought himself a man,   

An ordinary man,

And cried and cried No No No No   

All day long.


American Sketches


The telephone poles   

Have been holding their   

Arms out

A long time now

To birds

That will not

Settle there

But pass with

Strange cawings

Westward to

Where dark trees

Gather about a

Water hole this

Is Kansas the

Mountains start here   

Just behind

The closed eyes

Of a farmer’s

Sons asleep

In their work clothes


Excepting the diner
On the outskirts   
The town of Ladora
At 3 A.M.
Was dark but
For my headlights
And up in
One second-story room
A single light   
Where someone   
Was sick or   
Perhaps reading   
As I drove past   
At seventy
Not thinking   
This poem
Is for whoever
Had the light on

Nostalgia and Complaint of the Grandparents

Les morts
C’est sous terre;
Ça n’en sort

Our diaries squatted, toad-like,   

      On dark closet ledges.   

      Forget-me-not and thistle   

      Decalcomaned the pages.

      But where, where are they now,

         All the sad squalors

      Of those between-wars parlors?—

Cut flowers; and the sunlight spilt like soda

      On torporous rugs; the photo   

      Albums all outspread ...

            The dead

Don’t get around much anymore.
      There was an hour when daughters   

      Practiced arpeggios;

      Their mothers, awkward and proud,   

      Would listen, smoothing their hose—

      Sundays, half-past five!

         Do you recall

      How the sun used to loll,

Lazily, just beyond the roof,

      Bloodshot and aloof?

      We thought it would never set.

         The dead don’t get

      Around much anymore.
      Eternity resembles

      One long Sunday afternoon.

      No traffic passes; the cigar smoke   

      Curls in a blue cocoon.

      Children, have you nothing   

         For our cold sakes?

      No tea? No little tea cakes?

Sometimes now the rains disturb   

      Even our remote suburb.

      There’s a dampness underground.   

      The dead don’t get around

         Much anymore.

In the Attic

There’s a half hour toward dusk when flies,

Trapped by the summer screens, expire
Musically in the dust of sills;
And ceilings slope toward remembrance.

The same crimson afternoons expire

Over the same few rooftops repeatedly;
Only being stored up for remembrance,
They somehow escape the ordinary.

Childhood is like that, repeatedly

Lost in the very longueurs it redeems.
One forgets how small and ordinary
The world looked once by dusklight from above…

But not the moment which redeems

The drowsy arias of flies—
And the chin settles onto palms above
Numbed elbows propped up on rotting sills.

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