Poetry Club, day 8

I first wrote about this poem in my journal in June 2014 when Laura Brown and I were poetry buddying our way through Kevin Young’s collection Book of Hours. I was really taken with this one and have returned to it over and over.

Originally, The Joy of Poetry was supposed to have an entire chapter about buddying with Laura and about the poems in Young’s collection. Unfortunately, Harper Collins does not offer coupons for permissions. Also, when I rewrote the book, that whole chapter with Laura was condensed down to a sentence, a decision I still regret although I don’t know how I could have rectified it.

There’s a nod in the poem to Robert Browning’s “Andrea del Sarto,” about a man’s reach exceeding his grasp or what’s a heaven for. It makes me think that we have expectations for our children — how can we not? But as they grow and we learn who they are, we let go of who we thought they were. Sometimes we have to let them travel beyond our reach. Sometimes we grasp nothing, and it sure doesn’t feel like heaven. That’s why exceeding is necessary.



(for my stepdaughter)


May you never see

the diseased carp

being carried from the lake

like a lost girl, limp.


May the white dog

of Mercy drag you

from the car long before

it pours into flame.


May Mercy come

when called.


May you never lose

the family dog through

early ice, as your father did,


then weeks later spot

him below, frozen, eyeing you

skating just


out of reach, looking

like heaven to him.


May you exceed

our expectations, not

our reach, our reach

but not our grasp,


our homes

not our arms.


~ Kevin Young


Your turn.


  1. Just lovely. I’ve read it a few times today. So spare, yet every stanza is full of meaning. (I couldn’t resist translating/rewording several stanzas, not to improve on the poem, but in case someone sees it on my fridge and says, “I don’t understand what the guy means.” I’ll be ready with a suggestion or two. I wonder just WHO these multitudes of people are I keep imagining coming through my house, looking for answers.)

    “May Mercy come / when called.” Yes. An excellent prayer or blessing to say over someone.

    • Those multitudes are most likely the people who have opened our fridges over the years. Good thoughts, Marilyn. I may do some translating for potential fridge readers that might happen by for a blessing.

  2. I can’t get the image of that frozen dog just below the ice eyeing me…
    It’s hard when our hopes and expectations are not exceeded… and not even reached.