Three Poems by Kate Young Wilder

The Second Coming

As a girl, I worried
that any minute it could happen.
That’s what all the Baptist songs said:
Morning or noon or night.
Coming again. Coming again.
Sunday after Sunday we sang it.

But what if it happened while I was at school?
Would I have time to get from my desk in Miss Leavitt’s class
all the way up to my older brother on the third floor?
And what about our family?
My father, so often in the hospital,
and our baby brother, always sleeping:
How would they know what to do?

I imagined the crowds ascending to heaven—
I had seen the lovely renditions of how it will be:
Watery colors of heavenly skies
with golden beams of sunlight reaching for me.
I had always imagined the beams
a kind of holy escalator—
and escalators scare me.

There would be so many of us—
and I know what a crowd can do:
a six-year-old girl could be swallowed up, like that!
And what good are streets paved in gold
if you don’t have your mother?

Please, God, I used to pray,
don’t let it happen. It’s good here:

The smell of my dad’s worn shirt,
my mother’s voice harmonizing country songs
with him after supper.
We are moving soon to an old farm they just bought
and there is this barn and a cold brook and a warm pond.

My father says he’s going to fill that barn with animals.
And my mother says we can swim in the pond
if we don’t mind the muck.
We don’t mind at all. And God,
I love to swim.


The Pull

My father at the kitchen table:
his zippo lighter disassembled
before him.

A yellow and blue can of Ronsonol
lighter fluid flipped open.
And then the oily scent
as he soaks the felt pad
and pushes it back into place.
His large hands pince
the tiny brown flint, small as rice.

And all the pieces,
he fits back together,
slides into the outer case.
That familiar click of its hinge:
the sound of my childhood.

He scrapes his thumb
over the flint wheel
and it works on just one try.
Not the empty click, click,
click before.

The lighter fluid,
spilled on the case, flames
(too near the cuff
of his flannel shirt I warn him!)
but he tilts his hand,
and rolls his wrist,
burning off the oil
until the metal gleams,
silver and clean,
and all that remains
is the single necessary flame.

He grins at me
and I at him.
Or maybe his grin is not for me, at all,
but for his love
of this liturgy of lighters,
and the awaiting thrill
of the pull
of his next cigarette.


What One Drink Knows

Just one drink knows
it’s good to let those shoulders loosen.
Look, one drink isn’t hurting anybody.

And a few drinks know
everything is worth worrying about,
at least somewhat, at three o’clock in the morning.

A few drinks more
know that nobody should have to feel this bad;
and nobody appreciates all you do.
And that woman’s a bitch.
I mean, what the hell?

And I’ll tell you what they oughta do in the Middle East…
And I’ll tell you a story you oughta write…

But here’s the truth: cold and clear as an ice cube.
Many drinks—many, many drinks over many years—
they don’t know jack. They don’t know shit.
Never have. Never will.


Kate Young Wilder is a writer, artist, workshop leader, and spiritual director. She lives on a large pond in New Hampshire surrounded by old pines and the occasional fox and bear. She is the author of The House Where The Hardest Things Happened. (Doubleday, 2001).

4 thoughts on “Three Poems by Kate Young Wilder

  1. I loved all three poems. Kate. The third really grabbed me, seemed different tone, style from other two.

    1. Yes, that’s true. I think this is because in “What One Drink Knows” I was writing in the voice of another person. I was trying to capture the arrogant slurs and also the angry, short barks of the long drunk. The other two poems, I think, reflect my own voice of fond remembrance.

  2. I find it incredible that you remember the thoughts of a child so clearly. The fond rememberances, yes, but also the worries, concerns and angst. Very powerful!

  3. Yes. Some of those moments are still so present. Still so powerful. I love the ways the crafting of poetry pulls us deeply into the wells of memory.

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