The Delta Parade

By Susan Stewart b. 1952 Susan Stewart
Everything stops.
A fat man on his way to Baltimore   
smokes for three hours in the club car.
The porter slips out and calls his wife,
he has one dime left and he’s almost   
yelling. Somewhere south of York,   
she thinks he said. The funeral   
procession leaves its lights on   
and out of this pure stubbornness   
its batteries go dead.
The bank robber leans on his horn   
in desperation while his partner   
snaps the rubber bands around   
the money. A band,
you can hear it up the river,
first like the new heart of the child on
your lap, then like an old moon   
pulsing below your nails, or something
softly moving through your arms and   
throat. Here,
press here, not just drums.
A clown is throwing caramels   
at the porch rails, balloons
are exploding or sailing up the river.   
The lucky trees, to be able   
to stand that close. If we talk   
too much, we’ll surely miss it.

And at the still center
of summer it starts; cowboys ride out out
of another life, old cars get up
from the dead and dance
like cripples hired out for a tent meeting.   
Up and down the sidewalk, the town   
sucks in its breath like a girl
taking short gasps just above her trumpet,   
or a fire engine’s horn, heaving
like a drowned man or a heat wave slapping   
against the water tower, this afternoon   
just like a parade. The sore-footed   
ponies are loaded down with flags   
and the library float says
“Immortal Shakespeare,” says it
with carnations and the hides of roses,   
says it with a jester and a princess   
wearing wings.

And she stutters, but no one cares   
or can hear her. Except for the man   
on the unicycle who tips his top hat   
to the crowd, who swears he will   
follow her anywhere, who follows   
the mayor and the city council, who   
follows the tap dancing class and the Future   
Farmers, the Lions Club and the Veterans   
of Foreign Wars; who clasps a carnation   
between his teeth and sways   
back and forth like
a broken clock.

And then things begin again,
a car follows the man on the unicycle   
and suddenly it’s just another car,   
a pair of dice dangling
from the rearview mirror, a woman   
giving her breast to a child and another   
child carefully peeling a crayon, then   
slowly giving the peels to his
grandmother, who opens the big brass   
clasps of her pocketbook and lets   
the bright curls drop slowly
to the bottom
like confetti or a boy’s first
haircut. Like a first yellow leaf
that fell when we weren’t looking.
Because it’s summer. Like a smooth   
yellow pebble that is rubbing and rubbing   
in the new left boot of the drummer,   
that someone skimmed on the river   
exactly at three o’clock.
Not out of anger or of boredom
this time, but as if it could almost   
wear wings.

Susan Stewart, “The Delta Parade” from Yellow Stars and Ice. Copyright © 1981 by Princeton University Press. Reprinted with the permission of Princeton University Press.

Source: Yellow Stars and Ice (Princeton University Press, 1981)

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Poet Susan Stewart b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Time & Brevity, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Activities, Travels & Journeys

 Susan  Stewart

Biography

In an interview at the University of Pennsylvania, Susan Stewart said that her primary goal as a poet is “to get people to read more slowly, and to reread, and to read a whole book and go back to the beginning of the book and see connections.” Her writing can be startlingly clear, while at the same time—in the words of the MacArthur Foundation, on the occasion of presenting her with a “Genius Award”—it makes “strange and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Living, Disappointment & Failure, Activities, Travels & Journeys

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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