Galway Kinnell (1927-2014)

Galway Kinnell died last Tuesday at the age of 87. He was the first poet my husband introduced to me (through his many poetry books) some 30 years ago as we were beginning the journey of learning about each other. Before bed we used to read to each other. Kinnell’s words were often the ones I fell asleep to.

“After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.
In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.


Galway Kinnell, “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell.


“Another Night in the Ruins”

In the evening
haze darkening on the hills,
purple of the eternal,
a last bird crosses over,
flop flop,’ adoring
only the instant.
Nine years ago,
in a plane that rumbled all night
above the Atlantic,
I could see, lit up
by lightning bolts jumping out of it,
a thunderhead formed like the face
of my brother, looking down
on blue,
lightning-flashed moments of the Atlantic.
He used to tell me,
“What good is the day?
On some hill of despair
the bonfire
you kindle can light the great sky—
though it’s true, of course, to make it burn
you have to throw yourself in …”
Wind tears itself hollow
in the eaves of these ruins, ghost-flute
of snowdrifts
that build out there in the dark:
upside-down ravines
into which night sweeps
our cast wings, our ink-spattered feathers.
I listen.
I hear nothing. Only
the cow, the cow of such
hollowness, mooing
down the bones.
Is that a
rooster? He
thrashes in the snow
for a grain. Finds
it. Rips
it into
flames. Flaps. Crows.
bursting out of his brow.
How many nights must it take
one such as me to learn
that we aren’t, after all, made
from that bird that flies out of its ashes,
that for us
as we go up in flames, our one work
to open ourselves, to be
the flames?


Galway Kinnell, “Another Night in the Ruins” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell.

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3 Responses to Galway Kinnell (1927-2014)

  1. Jerome Bloom says:


    Here on the hill behind the house,
    we sit with our feet up on the edge
    of the eight-by-ten stone slab
    that was once the floor of the cow pass
    that the cows used, getting from one pasture
    to the other without setting a hoof
    on the dirt road lying between them.

    From here we can see the blackberry thicket,
    the maple sapling the moose slashed
    with his cutting teeth, turning it
    scarlet too early, the bluebird boxes
    flown from now, the one tree left
    of the ancient orchard popped out
    all over with saffron and rosy,
    subacid pie apples, smaller crabs grafted
    with scions of old varieties, Freedom,
    Sops-of-Wine, Wolf River, and trees
    we put in ourselves, dotted with red lumps.

    We speak in whispers: fifty feet away,
    under a red spruce, a yearling bear
    lolls on its belly eating clover.
    Abruptly it sits up. Did I touch my wine glass
    to the table, setting it humming?
    The bear peers about with the bleary undressedness
    of old people who have mislaid their eyeglasses.
    It ups its muzzle and sniffs. It fixes us,
    whirls, and plunges into the woods—
    a few cracklings and shatterings, and all is still.

    As often happens, we find ourselves
    thinking similar thoughts, this time of a friend
    who lives to the south of that row of peaks
    burnt yellow in the sunset. About now,
    he will be paying his daily visit to her grave,
    reading by heart the words, cut into black granite,
    that she had written for him, when they
    both thought he would die first:
    Or is he back by now, in his half-empty house,
    talking in ink to a piece of paper?

    I, who so often used to wish to float free
    of earth, now with all my being want to stay,
    to climb with you on other evenings to this stone,
    maybe finding a bear, or a coyote, like
    the one who, at dusk, a week ago, passed
    in his scissorish gait ten feet from where we sat—
    this earth we attach ourselves to so fiercely,
    like scions of Sheffield Seek-No-Furthers
    grafted for our lifetimes onto paradise root-stock.

    -Galway Kinnell


    (Lost another of my mentors.
    They always live on in their work.

  2. Jerome Bloom says:

    This past

    At Breakfast

    Galway Kinnell

    For her
    Call me
    To eat

    Not knowing
    of his death

    I was reading

    The Stone Table

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