To the Child I Never Had

This entry is part 26 of 38 in the series Bridge to Nowhere: poems at mid-life

There you are again, hollering
just for the company of the echo.
There you are wearing my genes,
bucktoothed, nearsighted
& hollow-eyed from insomnia, the family curse.
I know you, long-distance runner,
apostate, follower of game trails.
I see already your ruin, inevitable as oxygen.
I hear the birds who never spoke to me
calling to you by name,
as if the world could possibly miss
one more neurotic primate lover.
The bindweed sheds its leaves
& turns to gold filagree in the lilac,
above the graves of the strangers
whose whiskey bottles I have placed,
green & purple, in the windows
to catch the winter sun.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

34 Comments


  1. Superb, Dave. Full of resonances. As a long-term fan, I’m with Christine regarding this latest.

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  2. Completely wonderful. Especially because, well… me too. And having just heard you interacting with your young niece. But, on a less personal and sentimental note, this is the third poem in a row that I felt was just reaching new heights in your work – and each of them utterly different.

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  3. “I see already your ruin, inevitable as oxygen.” Are you sure you haven’t had a dozen children? Your insight suggests it.

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    1. Reasonably sure. That simile came from science, BTW, the theory that aging is the result of an accumulation of oxidative stress (which might turn out not to be true).

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  4. Goddamn, y’all. I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to get such warm feedback from such a variety of readers whose opinions I respect, and most of you long-time readers as well.
    _/_

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  5. A superb Poem. Supposedly Poetry comes from
    thinking about feelings. Your heart and your brain both
    run deep in this one! Thanks, Dave!

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  6. P. S.
    Poetry is the most charming thing in the world,
    and this poem proves it!

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  7. I’m in awe of your powers.

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  8. I’ve looked at this poem several times, coming to the rather extraordinary conclusion that, for me, it’s a literary palindrome.
    I can read it forward or backward, so to speak – with a title To the Child I Never Saw, it speaks so beautifully to the life of my 92 year-old mother, whom I now watch in the windows, catching the light of her life’s winter and becoming the child she once was.

    There you are again, hollering
    just for the company of the echo…
    There you are wearing my genes…
    I see already your ruin, inevitable as oxygen…

    Almost unbearably poignant, but truly wonderful. If my mom didn’t live so close, I think I’d have to book a flight right now…

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    1. I’m glad you were able to make another sense out of the poem. I can see how it might seem especially poignant with that reading. Perhaps a formal title-change is in order. Anyway, if you reproduce this for your own use, feel free to affix your title instead of mine.

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  9. Dave, I like your un-ghost…

    Reminds me of Yeats, as so many good things do:

    Because the daily spectacle that stirred
    My fancy, and set my boyish lips to say,
    “Only the wasteful virtues earn the sun”;
    Pardon that for a barren passion’s sake,
    Although I have come close on forty-nine,
    I have no child, I have nothing but a book,
    Nothing but that to prove your blood and mine.

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    1. “A barren passion” — yeah, that’s one way to put it. Thanks for sharing that, Marly.

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      1. A rather modest way, considering!

        And he did eventually have two children . . . That’s a funny thing about being a man. The door ain’t shut.

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  10. Wow, Dave. This really touched me, and not just because I share the childless thing. You hit the center on this one.

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  11. yet… There is still plenty of time, and no greater joy in the world.

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    1. Well, of course you were blessed with an unusually good kid, too! You know mine would turn out to be a head case. :)

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  12. Good poem, Dave. Not having children is a wise decision, truly, though one that may be tinged with regret, but a life lived is always full of regrets. Keep on putting those colored bottles on strangers’ graves.

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  13. Thanks again to everyone for the positive responses, here and on Facebook, and the links too. I guess I touched a nerve. Whatever I write next is going to be such a comedown!

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  14. this moved me so much I couldn’t respond, and I went to write my own, and remembered belatedly that I couldn’t because I did have a son. Which didn’t seem to lessen the longing for the son I would never have, at all. So much dies with us: I don’t think even a gaggle of kids makes much difference to that.

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    1. Dale, that’s an excellent point. Thanks for the comment. I’m surprised and humbled by the response to this piece.

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  15. Somehow I missed this when you posted it, Dave, but the title caught my eyes in your sidebar. It’s a hell of a poem, and speaks to me for what I imagine are fairly obvious reasons — here I am listening to your latest podcast with my own progeny trying to climb into my lap even now. I love your vision of your nonexistent child. In Jewish tradition, of course, there’s a notion that our students are our children; sometimes I wonder whether we might argue that our poems are; but it’s not the same as having a biological child. Anyway, this is poignant and quite terrific.

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    1. Thank you, Rachel. I value your opinion. (But I still think the ending needs work!)

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