Easter in Pittsburgh

By James Laughlin 1914–1997 James Laughlin
Even on Easter Sunday   
when the church was a

jungle of lilies and   
ferns fat Uncle Paul

who loved his liquor   
so would pound away

with both fists on the   
stone pulpit shouting

sin sin sin and the   
fiery fires of hell

and I cried all after-
noon the first time I

heard what they did to   
Jesus it was something

the children shouldn’t   
know about till they

were older but the new   
maid told me and both

of us cried a lot and so   
mother got another one

right away & she sent   
away Miss Richardson

who came all the way   
from England because

she kept telling how   
her fiancé Mr. Bowles-

Lyon died suddenly of   
a heart attack he just

said one day at lunch   
I’m afraid I’m not well

and the next thing they   
knew he was sliding un-

der the table. Easter   
was nice the eggs were

silly but the big lilies   
were wonderful & when

Uncle Paul got so fat   
from drinking that he

couldn’t squeeze into   
the pulpit anymore &

had to preach from the   
floor there was an el-

ders’ meeting and they   
said they would have

the pulpit rebuilt but   
Uncle Paul said no it

was the Lord’s manifest   
will and he would pass

his remaining years in   
sacred studies I liked

Thanksgiving better be-
cause that was the day

father took us down to   
the mills but Easter I

liked next best and the   
rabbits died because we

fed them beet tops and   
the lamb pulled up the

grass by the roots and   
was sold to Mr. Page the

butcher I asked Uncle   
Robert what were sacred

studies he said he was   
not really sure but he

guessed they came in a   
bottle and mother sent

me away from the table   
when I wouldn’t eat my

lamb chops that was   
ridiculous she said it

wasn’t the lamb of God   
it was just Caesar An-

dromache Nibbles but I   
couldn’t I just couldn’t

& the year of the strike   
we didn’t go to Church

at all on Easter because   
they said it wasn’t safe

down town so instead we   
had prayers in the library

and then right in the mid-
dle the telephone rang it

was Mr. Shupstead at the   
mill they had had to use

tear gas father made a   
special prayer right a-

way for God’s protection   
& mercy and then he sent

us out to the farm with   
mother we stayed a week

and missed school but it   
rained a lot and I broke

the bathroom mirror and   
had to learn a long psalm.

James Laughlin, “Easter in Pittsburgh” from Poems New and Selected. Copyright © 1996 by James Laughlin. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: Poetry (March 1940).

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This poem originally appeared in the March 1940 issue of Poetry magazine

March 1940
 James  Laughlin

Biography

While a sophomore on leave of absence from Harvard University, James Laughlin met Ezra Pound in Rapallo, Italy, and was invited to attend the "Ezuversity"—Pound's term for the private tutoring he gave Laughlin over meals, on hikes, or whenever the master paused in his labors. "I stayed several months in Rapallo at the 'Ezuversity,' learning and reading," recalls Laughlin in an interview with Linda Kuehl for the New York Times . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Living, Youth, Home Life, Relationships

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