McNeil, Arkansas, 1942

– Eric Paul Shaffer

Audio Poem

for William Stafford

I am glad I was with you in McNeil, when the curious
townsfolk gathered around you, and your friend drawing
a picture, and your friend writing a poem. I was not

in their eyes, narrowed in afternoon light, but I am glad
I was numbered among the pages of Whitman’s Leaves
of Grass when the suspicious one opened the book

you were reading to seek rhymes in the lines. I was not
in the angry voices rising from throats calling for judgment
upon you, but I was in the delay in fetching the rope

called for in haste. I wasn’t in the crowd gladly and grimly
gathering like a stormcloud over the prairie, but I was
in a voice calling from the crowd to summon the sheriff

quick. I wasn’t in the order to disperse or the jacketed backs
turned from the ground where you had stood, but I’m glad
I was there in the footfalls and dust rising from the road

back to the sheltering camp. I was not in the late moon
or the stars or the life you began that night, but I’m glad
I was there to save your life so that you could save mine.

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