“Exactly What Needs Saying” by Derek Sheffield

Derek Sheffield


There’s Father at the kitchen counter,
and there he is at the stovetop
where a steel pot’s beginning to bubble.
Now he’s picking up and putting away,
now rinsing plates, for tomorrow
it begins again. It never stops.
Your whole life with him, and now
when you visit, he’s standing at the sink, face
clouded in steam, hands carefully drying
each glass as you sit in the family room
sharing your life with your sisters.
It keeps going, this hiding behind
the sweeping and wiping, this acting
as if the crumbs you might scatter
or the dirt on your shoes is what matters,
this pretending not to see you
rolling around on the floor with your toddler daughters,
one after the other over the years
plopped on that same red rug, shaking her hands
and crying as you crooned, “Use your words.”
It never stops, this reserve of doing what needs doing,
and his father before, always going or gone
to harrow or hammer. And what about you,
alone in the dark of morning as you like,
here in your house on a side street
while your family sleeps on. How much longer
will it be before you stop doing
and start saying exactly what needs saying?

from Rattle #70, Winter 2020


Derek Sheffield: “I write because the words of others saved me in the long blue silence of my childhood and making poems for me has come to be about living more deeply and widely. Reading the poems of others and making my own is about expanding the available beauty and meaning of life amidst all the losses we must face. Writing is redemptive, individualistic, and the process puts me in touch with a mysterious aspect of being. Call it what you will—God, muse, imagination. It is like nothing else I’ve ever encountered.” (web)


Derek Sheffield was the guest on Rattlecast #81! Click here to join us live at 9pm ET …

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