793: Children Listen

793: Children Listen

793: Children Listen


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I was recently on stage in conversation with the brilliant Kentucky Poet Laureate Crystal Wilkinson in Hazard, Kentucky. At the end of the discussion, someone from the crowd asked what brings us hope. I mentioned the natural world, as I often do. The cyclical idea of seasons, of life finding a way. But Crystal mentioned children, and she mentioned not just their innocence, but their sense of wonder and their ability to see things in different ways.

Truth be told, I don’t spend a lot of time with younger children. My nieces and nephews are all teenagers now and as I do not have children of my own, I won’t be a grandmother down the line. Still, the other day in Little Rock, Arkansas, I was talking to a few undergraduates and their energy, their mix of enthusiasm and anxiety and joyful connection buoyed me. I was reminded that being around young people can make you feel like everything’s going to be okay. Whatever “okay” might look like in the future.

But even as I write this, we hear news of more bombings in Ukraine, of the unfolding of new violence. One image sticks out from that news, a playground with a bomb blast in the middle of it. I want to believe we will be okay, but I also want to see, for lack of a better word, some proof.

I will never be a mother, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to protect and encourage the children of the world. I want them to be safe. Whether they are in a country torn apart by war or in a country where they can’t walk home from the corner store without being killed in their hoodie. If children are our future, as the Whitney Houston song says, then let’s make sure they survive and get the chance to love, to flourish, to see all the big weird life the world can offer.

Today’s poem explores the future we are leaving for children, but it also evokes poetic imagery from days gone by. It’s a powerful statement on where we are and where we are heading.

Children Listen
by Roger Reeves

                   It turns out however that I was deeply
Mistaken about the end of the world
                   The body in flames will not be the body
In flames but just a house fire ignored
                   The black sails of that solitary burning
Boat rubbing along the legs of lovers
                   Flung into a Roman sky by a carousel
The lovers too sick in their love
                   To notice a man drenched in fire on a porch
Or a child aflame mistaken for a dog
                   Mistaken for a child running to tell of a bomb
That did not knock before it entered
                   In Gaza with its glad tidings of abundant joy
In Kazimierz a god is weeping
                   In a window one golden hand raised 
Above his head as if he’s slipped
                   On the slick rag of the future our human
Kindnesses unremarkable as the flies
                   Rubbing their legs together while standing
On a slice of cantaloupe Children
                   You were never meant to be human
You must be the grass
                   You must grow wildly over the graves

"Children Listen" by Roger Reeves from BEST BARBARIAN copyright © 2022 Roger Reeves. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Co.