“He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody's missing./ Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up./ Nobody is ever missing.”
—John Berryman, “Dream Song 29”


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Kenneth Wolman
Kenneth Wolman

The Drapers: A History Lesson, 1953

Silent, they measure the windows,
pass tape and yardstick back and forth,
silent, the father and son,
heavily, heavy, to shut out the light,
filling the room with their silence.

Only their numbers speak:
jagged, purple, like wounds that themselves are knives
seeming even now to stab the wearers' arms.
When I hand the father the tape he has dropped,
I stare at the numbers, then into his face:
and his eyes jump as from a soft shock,
swirling away from the question he fears.

But I am only nine, the Simple Son
who cannot conceive, so cannot ask.
And seeing so, he takes the tape, nods,
then turns to his son who watches:
and in their faces, the smiles of knowledge
harden like putty lips on a sacrificial mask:
not from mockery of an ignorant boy,
but from hiding still that special place
where nothing grew, not even questions.