Four Poems by Robert Wooten


Counting Out the Change

Raymond’s mother couldn’t count
the 100 pennies out
he needed for a kite
because she was sleeping late.

Her answer floated up from the croaking face
where her eyes were closed.
She looked like a newborn pup, a lump
beneath the sheets and bedclothes.

Raymond brought the penny jar
into her bed-
room, where it was shadowy and dark
and he could hardly see.  Then, he counted out
each penny slowly
so she could hear.

It was Saturday,
and Mother was tired.  She would probably sleep
all day, she always did
on Saturday.  So Raymond slipped away
to the grass of the churchyard,
the free feet of Raymond.

The Church

Raymond wrestled down
the second grader
who was following him—
“Do you give?

“Do you give?” he asked,
sitting on the older boy’s chest,
pinning his arms.

“What do you want me to say?”
he asked.  “Uncle?”

“Do you give up?”

“Yes,” he replied.

It was that
the older boy had tried to follow him
on his short-cut home
when he didn’t want to be followed—
but that was it.

Turning the Engine Off

Turning the engine off, Ray often coasted downhill on 70.
This saved gas, he believed, in keeping with his feeling
that cars should coast downhill and shut off at long red lights.
Between Burlington and Raleigh, the hills were long and one-sided,
falling from lower heights and into much deeper vales.  This was
a view which he had shared with nobody else but his son;
Raymond, in the backseat, felt the engine’s cool vibrato go.

Visiting Father

Suddenly, Raymond
found he had a lot of energy.
Father fixed him corned beef hash,
then they went walking
and Raymond ran ahead.

He climbed a great pine tree so fast
he didn’t hear what Father said
in time.
“Raymond, that tree is rotten.”

And then, near the top,
he walked out between two limbs,
holding the one above
and walking on the one below.
The one below broke,
and Raymond,
who had been talking loudly
the whole time he climbed and walked out,
didn’t let go.

He hung from the branch above.
It was lucky he was only
five years old.  Still talking loudly,
lightly, he pulled himself back in,
to his father below who looked up
with raised eyebrows
at his only son.

Spring Break

Of the bed in the back at Grandmother’s,
and watching his mother’s VW
wind away through the road into its horizon
toward his city’s and Tuesday’s scheduled work,
and rethinking that his answer to the question,
‘Do you want to get up early and leave
with me, or stay in the bed?,’
may have been precipitant, he feels
that his choices could just as well shift gears
now as they slip away into that silent country.