From time to time I would like to share some memorable poetry in this space, as I have already done here and here.   I say memorable because I am only going to post ones I know by heart, or almost by heart.
Very rarely have I actually set out to memorize a poem for any reason other than that a teacher required it.  Most of the ones I can recite I found myself picking up spontaneously, some from repeated reading, others because they touched me in some way.
I read today’s selection many, many years ago in an elementary school reading book–probably in the third or fourth grade.  And that is where I found it again, too, a few years ago–in one of the old Catholic textbooks I had purchased through ebay to use for homeschooling.
Nancy Hanks
by Rosemary Benet
If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Seeking news
Of what she loved most,
She’d ask first
“Where’s my son?
What’s happened to Abe?
What’s he done?”

“Poor little Abe,
Left all alone
Except for Tom,
Who’s a rolling stone;
He was only nine
The year I died.
I remember still
How hard he cried.”

“Scraping along
In a little shack,
With hardly a shirt
To cover his back,
And a prairie wind
To blow him down,
Or pinching times
If he went to town.”

“You wouldn’t know
About my son?
Did he grow tall?
Did he have fun?
Did he learn to read?
Did he get to town?
Do you know his name?
Did he get on?”

It’s not great poetry, but it stayed with me, almost all of it for years, and I’m not sure why.  Maybe because I was around the same age Abe was when he lost his mother the year I first read it, and for me as for, I imagine, most children, the idea of losing my mother was unimaginably dreadful.  Reading it now, of course, my focus is different, and  I picture my own little nine-year-old, my baby boy, and think of how he would feel if I died.
I do know why it’s on my mind right now, though–it’s because of the book I just finished reading.  Even though large portions of this book were fiction, the love between son and mother and the depth of Abraham Lincoln’s loss rang true.


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