yellow caterpillars raining from trees in front of our red brick
building. My father told me don’t tell them the names of our friends.
Vernon asked me to marry him, gave me a white
flower, promised we’d live on a farm with cows
and ducks and sheep, but I didn’t want to leave home when I was four.
My father told me if strange men talk to you in the
street, don’t tell them the names of people who come to
the house, don’t tell them the names of our friends.
We played in long shadows of trees on steamy sidewalks––
when bad boys from around the corner showed up to hit us with
sticks, we fled. Summer nights on the roof, warm breeze under starless sky. I was four
when a girl said the Jews killed Jesus––they pushed him off a
bridge. Upstairs, my mother thin-lipped, hoarsely whispered it isn’t
true. My father cautioned don’t tell them the names of our friends.
My parents said if you come home and we aren’t here, go
to Katherine’s on the third floor. Bedtime I searched the dark
sky of my room for a wishing star––blew kisses into my pillow. I was four
when my father warned me don’t tell them the names of our friends.
–Judith Lee Herbert
6 thoughts on “Starless Sky”
I find this poem to be profoundly moving, a graphic recounting of an innocent child’s experience of the political atmosphere of the time.
Moving, soft, powerful, painful.
More simply, “wow”
Wow. What a strong poem. And I agree, moving.
I found Starry Night to be an intensely vivid and expressive recounting of a young childs strong connection to her parents despite the presence of profound dangerous political undertones.
Beautifully expressed memories of a young child. Brings back memories of the evilness of a particular time.
This is such a mixture of the wonders of childhood and the world of adults that has not yet been “translated.” Only later can the narrator make sense of what her father’s admonishment meant. But the child was gathering information about the world. Eudora Welty, I think, wrote of sitting between her mother and aunt in the car. She said her ears were like marigolds opening up to hear the conversation which included clues to the world around her that she could figure out later. I love the sense of time in this poem, how she captures the moment of the child but adds the dimension of the future, for when she later understands the implications of the warnings of danger in the world.