The Light the Dead See

By Frank Stanford 1948–1978 Frank Stanford
There are many people who come back
After the doctor has smoothed the sheet
Around their body
And left the room to make his call.

They die but they live.

They are called the dead who lived through their deaths,
And among my people
They are considered wise and honest.

They float out of their bodies
And light on the ceiling like a moth,
Watching the efforts of everyone around them.

The voices and the images of the living
Fade away.

A roar sucks them under
The wheels of a darkness without pain.
Off in the distance
There is someone
Like a signalman swinging a lantern.

The light grows, a white flower.
It becomes very intense, like music.

They see the faces of those they loved,
The truly dead who speak kindly.

They see their father sitting in a field.
The harvest is over and his cane chair is mended.
There is a towel around his neck,
The odor of bay rum.
Then they see their mother
Standing behind him with a pair of shears.
The wind is blowing.
She is cutting his hair.

The dead have told these stories
To the living.

Frank Stanford, "The Light the Dead See" from The Light the Dead See: Selected Poems of Frank Stanford. Copyright © 1991 by Frank Stanford.  Reprinted by permission of University of Arkansas Press.

Source: The Light the Dead See: Selected Poems of Frank Stanford (University of Arkansas Press, 1991)

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Poet Frank Stanford 1948–1978

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Living, Death, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

Biography

Born in 1948, Stanford was a prolific poet known for his originality and ingenuity. He has been dubbed “a swamprat Rimbaud” by Lorenzo Thomas and “one of the great voices of death” by Franz Wright. He grew up in Mississippi, Tennessee, and then Arkansas, where he lived for most of his life and wrote many of his most powerful poems. He attended the University of Arkansas from 1967-9 and studied engineering while continuing to . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Relationships, Family & Ancestors

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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