Lines That Shut Your Eyes


Twelve-year-old Emma Graham and elderly Mr. Root sit outside the grocery store in a little town in the mountains of Maryland, discussing poetry. From Martha Grimes’ Fadeaway Girl:

“What’s the poem, Mr. Root?”

. . . It was a paperback, not very thick. I saw it was the poetry of Robert Frost. “But I thought you didn’t like Robert Frost. You were all against ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.’ Remember?”

“That one, yeah. But he’s wrote a couple of good ones. I kind of put ’em in between Emily’s, you know, . . .”  Mr. Root cleared his throat and intoned in a sing-song fashion:

This saying good-by on the edge of the dark—

It shut my eyes, that line did, as sure as someone passing a hand over them. “Oh,” I said.



He read on, although I was still back there on the edge of the dark.

Then he came to:

I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard’s ar-bo-re-al plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.

My eyes snapped shut again. I had never heard anything so fearfully sad. I bit my lip to keep from crying. I could almost see it, the trees too young to be left alone, waiting for someone or something to come, and finally knowing no one ever would.

“Yep,” said Mr. Root. “Some of his, well, I’d say he knows what he’s talking about. Straight talk. That’s what Frost was really good at, none of those namby-pamby poems about Greek urns and stuff. Nope”—he held up the book—”just plainspoken, to-the-point words about nature and stuff.”

“Mr. Root,” I said, “I don’t think he’s plainspoken. He means a lot more than what he seems to be saying.” . . .

Mr. Root pushed his feed cap back on his head and scratched his forehead. . . .

“What do you mean by that?” His eyes narrowed as if I were insulting him.

I didn’t want to talk about it; I don’t know why I had to open my big mouth. “Well, I think he means something different from what he’s saying. Or seems to be saying.” . . .

I asked Mr. Root if I could borrow the book for a minute, and he handed it to me.

“And could I have a piece of paper and use your pencil?”

He tore off a little sheet and handed that to me, too, along with his pencil. “Whatcha doin’?”

“Just copying.”

I wrote the last lines on the paper and folded it up and stuck it in my change purse.


Are there any lines of poetry or prose that shut your eyes?

One thought on “Lines That Shut Your Eyes

  1. Kathy: Haven’t heard from you for a while. Hope all is well.  I became acquainted with your blog when my cousin Richard (Dwan) Ward forwarded a piece you did on my grandfather, W. F. Ward. I was so happy others remembered him fondly.  As usual, you left a feeling that the writer (you) really cares about the subject. So I joined your club and enjoyed all of the tales, even the cat ones.

    Then more recently you did a piece on Mayme Ward Day, my aunt.  I had recently completed a genealogical history of the Ward family and included a “bio” on Mayme (Auntie to me).  I have attached a copy. Perhaps in these slow times of quarantine you might like to glance through it.  She was indeed a remarkable woman and so important to our family. On Fentress we share a love.  You probably got more of it that me which makes me extremely jealous.  I marvel at the fortunate circumstances that brought me into such a nurturing community full of interesting people like “Sugar Man” Dauchy, Bud Man, the Waller’s, the McCutcheion’s, the Meadow’s (Jackie and Ron), the Tiller’s (Donnie), and the Leisures (Gordon and Margaret).  Perhaps the most unforgettable?  Nora Brown, the black lady who watched over Will and Janie.  So many quotes, one was repeated often: “Am I the only one around here with fingers that will do a little work?”  Keep writing…. Don Ward


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