Keith Woodruff


​After all your suffering, you die offstage. Your heart bursts smilingly from the joy and shock of learning your son is alive. No such merciful exit for me. But there are many kinds of death. Rain of leaves. Dust of skin cells. The body we know can move around convincingly with nothing true inside. So it is with me. For he is gone. This boy who meant so much to me. Passing too quickly, quietly as bird’s wing through air. Those weeks of waiting for his eyes to open, my face like a lamp above his, are over. My son, sick with cells that would not light, died in my hands at six weeks of age. Time then twisted, became hideous days, weeks, years we’d never be together. Thumb-gored Gloucester, how I would take your place now, wander eyes blind. For it’s hard to love the world, the endless ways it tries to hold us, when I am so afraid just walking down the street, of clouds, pines, a goldfinch, anything amazing my son will never see. You feel without seeing. I see without feeling. Old friend, up is down. By night I write in third person about a pain beyond words. By day, I see flowers and weeds everywhere that outlive him, needlessly reminding what I already know: love most what is brief, which is everything.


R. W. W.

June 4, 1998 – July 14, 1998

​I thought the world should be ashamed,
letting you go
before me. It is an old song:
we live and love
like rain against windows
and are done. Let cicada,
lilacs, articulate this miserable premise.Experts talk
of surviving your death
but the word is imprecise,
the way cleaning fish means
hacking off the heads,
scraping away the scales,
ripping out the sticky plumbing
that made the thing go.Dare I say, some days
it seems you were never born?
But what carries me
along is surely the wake of your going.
Maybe it is true
what the old poet says: in this profound dark
the tiniest light is enough
to draw us back. But I am not ready
to be astonished. Dark still
as morning glories, purple and white,
open for a light I cannot see.

Keith Woodruff has a Masters in poetry from Purdue U’s creative writing program. His poetry has appeared in Poetry East, Zone 3, Tar River Poetry, The Panhandler, and is forthcoming in Quarter After Eight and The Journal. He lives with his wife and son in Akron, Ohio.