Better or Worse

By Heather McHugh b. 1948 Heather McHugh
I.

Daily, the kindergarteners   
passed my porch. I loved   
their likeness and variety,   
their selves in line like little   
monosyllables, but huggable—
I wasn't meant

to grab them, ever,
up into actual besmooches or down   
into grubbiest tumbles, my lot was not   
to have them, in the flesh.
Was it better or worse to let
their lovability go by untouched, and just   
watch over their river of ever-
inbraiding relations? I wouldn't
mother them or teach. We couldn't be   
each other's others; maybe,
at removes, each other's each.

   II.

Each toddler had a hand-hold on
a loop of rope, designed to haul
the whole school onward   
in the sidewalk stream—
like pickerel through freshets,
at the pull of something else's will, the children
spun and bobbled, three years old and four
(or were they little drunken Buddhas,
buoyant, plump?). They looked
now to the right, now to the sky, and now
toward nothing (nothing was too small)—
they followed a thread of destination,
chain of command, order of actual rope that led

to what? Who knew?

For here and now in one child's eye there was a yellow truck,
and in another's was a burning star; but from my own perspective,
overhead, adult, where trucks and suns had lost their luster,   
they were one whole baby-rush toward
a target, toward the law
of targets, fledge
in the wake of an arrowhead;

a bull's-eye bloomed, a red   
eight-sided sign. What   
did I wish them?
Nothing I foresaw.

Heather McHugh, “Better or Worse” from Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993. Copyright © 1994 by Heather McHugh. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: Hinge & Sign: Poems 1968-1993 (Wesleyan University Press, 1994)

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Poet Heather McHugh b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Living, Youth, Relationships

Holidays Mother's Day

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Heather  McHugh

Biography

Poet Heather McHugh’s work is noted for its rhetorical gestures, sharp puns and interest in the materials of language itself—her self-described determination is “to follow every surge of language, every scrap and flotsam.” Describing her work in the Boston Review, poet and critic Richard Howard alleged that “most of McHugh’s poems end in a spurt, as they proceed in a slather, of just such astonishment as is bestowed—afforded—by . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Youth, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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