Guest Poet Brent Patton

Sometimes We Smother Them

Our family vacationed some summers
in mountains made of boulders
with air crisp as dried pecan shells

I think my dad took us one year
but I can't remember for sure.
He died when I was four

in a single-engine plane
that fell from the sky
challenging the mountains.

My memories of him are only
a minimal series of brief encounters
somehow I thought I was to blame.

Another year we fished for trout
in the series of lakes down
the back steps in early morning

with fog tiptoeing across the water
and hop-scotched rocks on warm
afternoons racing to Eagle's nest.

The other man my mother married
hooked his thumb one morning
making him almost human

Although his name was Richard
he called himself Dick
and I never disagreed.

One day we drowned pack-rats
my grandfather had trapped
which we found sadistically funny.

These were happy days
playing Kick-The-Can and
Forty-Two with Baba,

she was the dominoes champion
but she's dead now too
along with Papa, my grandfather.

Another time, I met a girl while hiking
but she was drowned by my impatience
however, I didn't find that so funny.

One day I found a sparrow
lying among fallen leaves
a helpless infant bird

with wings half-matured
unable to fly far,
fallen from its nest

it was so fragile
like my own children now
when I first held them.

I picked it up excited
just to hold it and
show it my affection.

at first it squirmed when
I held it and ran to show
my mother the prize I had found

but I only held it tighter
so it wouldn't escape
feeling its warmth in my palm.

when I got to the top of the hill
where the cabin sat
I found the sparrow limp

crushed by my excitement
and though I tried to wake it up
pushing it around the palm

of my hand with one finger
it just lay there dead
unmoving, unbreathing.

When I asked my mother why it died
she just said I had crushed it
that I was too rough sometimes

and I had to be more gentle.
That day's joy turned to sadness
thrill to despair

as I sat there crying and buried
what would never have a chance to really fly
wishing I had never found it.

November, 1997

Brent Patton's Questions:

Is the idea adequately portrayed that some relationships end because of death, some because of circumstance, but others end because of our own shortcomings?

Correspond with Brent Patton at
with your ideas about this poem.

The Albany Poetry Workshop