The Orphans by Benjamin Myers


My children are pretending that I’m dead.
The spider leaves of the mimosa tree
for shade, they play a game they call “the orphans,”
stretched out in grass bald dirt beside the roots
and moaning as they wake from some imagined
airplane crash that has left them all alone
in darkest jungle. Right away they start
to gather leaves and drop them in a bucket
full of rain water, stirring with a stick
and calling it breakfast. I sit on the porch
and think, What level-headed kids we’ve raised,
attending to the most important meal
even with my charred and smoking corpse nearby!

But then I think of my own mother standing
at our screen door, already in her fifties when
her mother died but bawling out
into the fields, I am an orphan,
like she was giving voice to something we
all know. The children tiptoe out from shade,
into the glare of sun, exploring
their jungle home. They are rehearsing worst
scenarios but also drawing lines
around themselves, like people
in their coloring books contoured in solid black
for filling in later. The cat with a lazy eye
is watching them. They’ve put mimosa blossoms
in their hair. Sitting on the porch, I float
between the generations and hear
the children’s voices tearing ragged strips
from summer quiet. I stand, wanting to call
to them out there in all that heavy light,
but I can barely see them now in the glare.
And when I raise my hand to block the sun,
I freeze, suddenly aware of how much
I look like a man who is waving goodbye.


Benjamin Myers is the 2015-2016 Poet Laureate of the State of Oklahoma and the author of two books of poetry: Lapse Americana (New York Quarterly Books, 2013) and Elegy for Trains (Village Books Press, 2010). His poems may be read in The Yale Review, The New York Quarterly, 32 Poems, Nimrod, Redivider and other journals. He has been honored with an Oklahoma Book Award from the Oklahoma Center for the Book and with a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Myers teaches poetry writing and literature at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he is the Crouch-Mathis Professor of Literature.