That Child

By David Wagoner b. 1926 David Wagoner
That child was dangerous. That just-born
    Newly washed and silent baby
         Wrapped in deerskin and held warm
Against the side of its mother could understand
    The language of birds and animals
         Even when asleep. It knew why Bluejay
Was scolding the bushes, what Hawk was explaining
   To the wind on the cliffside, what Bittern had found out
         While standing alone in marsh grass. It knew
What the screams of Fox and the whistling of Otter
    Were telling the forest. That child knew
         The language of Fire
As it gnawed at sticks like Beaver
    And what Water said all day and all night
         At the creek's mouth. As its small fingers
Closed around Stone, it held what Stone was saying.
    It knew what Bear Mother whispered to herself
         Under the snow. It could not tell
Anyone what it knew. It would laugh
    Or cry out or startle or suddenly stare
         At nothing, but had no way
To repeat what it was hearing, what it wanted most
    Not to remember. It had no way to know
         Why it would fall under a spell
And lie still as if not breathing,
    Having grown afraid
         Of what it could understand. That child would learn
To sit and crawl and stand and begin
    Putting one foot forward and following it
         With the other, would learn to put one word
It could barely remember slightly ahead
    Of the other and then walk and speak
         And finally run and chatter,
And all the Tillamook would know that child
    Had forgotten everything and at last could listen
         Only to people and was safe now.

Source: Poetry (May 2000).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2000 issue of Poetry magazine

May 2000
 David  Wagoner


David Wagoner is recognized as the leading poet of the Pacific Northwest, often compared to his early mentor Theodore Roethke, and highly praised for his skillful, insightful and serious body of work. He has won numerous prestigious literary awards including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and the Academy of Arts and Letters Award, and has twice been nominated for the National Book Award. The author of ten . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Mythology & Folklore, Animals, Infancy, Living, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Pastoral

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