The Scream

Robert Lowell

First Published in The Kenyon Review, Autumn 1962, Vol. XXIV, No. 4

(Derived from Elizabeth Bishop’s story, “In the Village”)

A scream, the echo of a scream,
now only a thinning echo . . .
As a child in Nova Scotia,
I used to watch the sky,
Swiss sky, too blue, too dark.

A cow drooled green grass strings.
made cow flop, smack, smack, smack!
and tried to brush off its flies
on a lilac bush—all,
forever, at one fell swoop!

In the blacksmith’s shop,
the horseshoes sailed through the dark,
like bloody little moons,
red-hot, hissing, protesting,
as they drowned in the pan.

Back and away and back!
Mother kept coming and going—
with me, without me!
Mother’s dresses were black
or white, or black-and-white.

One day she changed to purple,
and left her mourning. At the fitting,
the dressmaker crawled on the floor,
eating pins, like Nebuchadnezzar
on his knees eating grass.

Drummers sometimes came
selling gilded red
and green books, unlovely books!
The people in the pictures
wore clothes like the purple dress.

Later, she gave the scream,
not even loud at first . . .
when she went away I thought
“But you don’t have to love everyone,
your heart won’t let you!”

A scream! But they are all gone,
those aunts and aunts, a grandfather,
a grandmother, my mother—
even her scream—too frail
for us to hear their voices long.

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