Morals from The Treasury of Pleasure Books for Young Children

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!                    

                                                —Chicken Little

On her way to warn the king,
Chick meets Rooster, Goose, Duck,
and Fox—who tricks the birds,
gobbles them up. Or not.
Sometimes the flock escapes.
Versions of this tale go back
twenty-five centuries, I’m told.
All mock mass hysteria,
but the moral hangs on king’s reply:
Don’t believe everything you’re told, child.                        
Never lose sight of real danger.                        
Have courage! 

When wind shakes the oak
and acorns augur wicked weather,
don’t tremble, child. Storms rinse
the mudhole past, tip ships,
spill empire with a sneeze.
Ask the three little priests
about churches flying off
foundations, the Reformation,
Voltaire in prison, natural selection—
Darwin storming the Galapagos,
his gale inside a hollow quill.
Don’t believe everything you read,
child. Aristotle wrote, “What is a nut
if not a tree in the end?” In the end,
every story finds a purpose. So
the story goes. If Chick was destined to feel
sky fall on her bald head, if Fox evolved
to eat chicken, if what survives spreads—
how good the goods?
How fine the soul’s merchandise?
In other words, my twenty-first century
chirp, who knows?
The king is dead.
The sky may or may not be.
Brace thyself.



Night Terrors

Strange that starving grizzlies eat their young
while nature (culture?) programmed me to share,
sacrifice, lose sleep—snap awake, stagger
through the hall at two A.M., rehearsing songs
fathers everywhere, back to who knows
when, sing, night after night. Hear her
wheeze. Watch her chest rise. Why fear?
Blackout shades blunt dawn, nightlights show
she’s fine. Still, the drive to save her life,
calm her infant cries—Beware!
Some suffocate. Some you can’t revive.
Our best defense this pure, intoxicating fear,
distilled, drip-by-drip, through blood-choked time,
the cries not hers alone but mine, fierce and older.

Ben Gunsberg’s poetry has appeared in journals such as Mid-American Review, CutBank, and DIAGRAM.  His awards include honors from the Utah Arts Council and University of Michigan’s Hopwood Award for Poetry. He lives in Logan, Utah, and teaches English at Utah State University.