“Lexicon for a Simpler Childhood” by Hillery Stone

Hillery Stone


In those early days I was afraid
my daughter would overhear the word death,

the words stupid or rich startling the dialogue
like blackbucks leaping onto a wheat field.

Then it was sex I hid, suicide,
schizophrenia that took her young uncle

in front of the shed—shotgun, two
strained weeks out of the clinic. Suicide

was my mother’s father hung
at forty-two, stupid the name boiling

from the mean kids on the street,
rich what we disdained in envy, sex

a rush to the end of her brief childhood.
And death,

death was the emptiness I could not bear
for her to know was ahead, the rain

the antelope can smell coming.
Remember when the world still hid

its shadows? When the saiga had not yet died
by the thousands in a single day?

How good it felt before you knew.

from Rattle #53, Fall 2016

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Hillery Stone: “Something in the news takes my breath away almost every day—the good and the bad. When I read about the mass death of the saiga last year in Kazakhstan I was struck by its horror and mystery. This poem was borne out of that, and the particular sense of not being able to turn back once you’ve stumbled on something, and simultaneously, the desire to protect my daughter from the darker parts of life. That’s always on my mind: how to let my children learn the world as it really is, but gently, at the right speed, to keep their hearts intact. That sentiment has come into many of my poems.”

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