Year’s End

By Ellen Bryant Voigt b. 1943
The fingers lie in the lap,
separate, lonely, as in the field   
the separate blades of grass   
shrivel or grow tall.

We sat together in the little room,   
the walls blotched with steam,   
holding the baby as if the two of us
could breathe for him and were not helpless.   
Upstairs, his sister turned in her sleep   
as the phone rang—

to have wakened to a child’s cry,   
gagged and desperate,
and then repeat that terror when the call   
split the quiet house and centered   
its dire message:
                           a child was dead   
and his mother so wrung by grief   
she stared and stared
at the moon on its black stalk,   
the road glistening like wire.
Rubbing the window clear of steam   
as a child rubs sleep from its eyes,   
and looking past the fence to where
he had plunged the sled up and down the hill,   
we could still see the holes his feet made,   
a staggered row of graves
extracting darkness from the snow.
When morning brought the new year in,   
the fever broke, and fresh snow   
bandaged the tracks on the hill.
For a long time we stayed in the room,
listening to him breathe,
like refugees who listen to the sea,   
unable to fully rejoice, or fully grieve.

Ellen Bryant Voigt, “Year’s End” from The Forces of Plenty (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983). Copyright © 1983 by Ellen Bryant Voigt. Used by permission of the author.

Source: The Forces of Plenty (1983)

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Poet Ellen Bryant Voigt b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Health & Illness, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death, Parenthood

Holidays New Year


Ellen Bryant Voigt has lived in Vermont for many years; she spent her childhood in rural Virginia, where she grew up on her family’s farm. Her poems traverse the worlds of motherhood, the rural South, family, and music. Her 1995 collection Kyrie: Poems is a book-length sonnet sequence exploring the lives of people affected by the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. Poet Edward Hirsch wrote of her early book, Claiming Kin (1976), . . .

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SUBJECT Health & Illness, Living, Sorrow & Grieving, Death, Parenthood

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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