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  • Book of Hours
  • Written by Kevin Young
  • Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780307272249
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  • Book of Hours
  • Written by Kevin Young
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780375711886
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Book of Hours


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A decade after the sudden and tragic loss of his father, we witness the unfolding of grief. “In the night I brush / my teeth with a razor,” he tells us, in one of the collection’s piercing two-line poems. Capturing the strange silence of bereavement (“Not the storm / but the calm / that slays me”), Kevin Young acknowledges, even celebrates, life’s passages, his loss transformed and tempered in a sequence about the birth of his son: in “Crowning,” he delivers what is surely one of the most powerful birth poems written by a man, describing “her face / full of fire, then groaning your face / out like a flower, blood-bloom,/ crocused into air.” Ending this book of both birth and grief, the gorgeous title sequence brings acceptance, asking “What good/are wishes if they aren’t / used up?” while understanding “How to listen / to what’s gone.” Young’s frank music speaks directly to the reader in these elemental poems, reminding us that the right words can both comfort us and enlarge our understanding of life’s mysteries.


Behind his house, my father’s dogs
sleep in kennels, beautiful,
he built just for them.
They do not bark.
Do they know he is dead?
They wag their tails
& head. They beg
& are fed.
Their grief is colossal
& forgetful.
Each day they wake
seeking his voice,
their names.
By dusk they seem
to unremember everything—
to them even hunger
is a game. For that, I envy.
For that, I cannot bear to watch them
pacing their cage. I try to remember
they love best confined space
to feel safe. Each day
a saint comes by to feed the pair
& I draw closer
the shades.
I’ve begun to think of them
as my father’s other sons,
as kin. Brothers-in-paw.
My eyes each day thaw.
One day the water cuts off.
Then back on.
They are outside dogs—
which is to say, healthy
& victorious, purposeful
& one giant muscle
like the heart. Dad taught
them not to bark, to point
out their prey. To stay.
Were they there that day?
They call me
like witnesses & will not say.
I ask for their care
& their carelessness—
wish of them forgiveness.
I must give them away.
I must find for them homes,
sleep restless in his.
All night I expect they pace
as I do, each dog like an eye
roaming with the dead
beneath an unlocked lid.
Memorial Day
Thunder knocks
loud on all the doors.
Lightning lets you
inside every house,
white flooding
the spare, spotless rooms.
Flags at half mast.
And like choirboys,
clockwork, the dogs
ladder their voices
to the dark, echoing off
each half-hid star.
It never ends, the bruise
of being—messy,
untimely, the breath
of newborns uneven, half
pant, as they find
their rhythm, inexact
as vengeance. Son,
while you sleep
we watch you like a kettle
learning to whistle.
Awake, older,
you fumble now
in the most graceful
to have seen you, on your own
steam, simply eating, slow,
chewing—this bloom
of being. Almost beautiful
how you flounder, mouth full, bite
the edges of this world
that doesn’t want
a thing but to keep turning
with, or without you—
with. With. Child, hold fast
I say, to this greening thing
as it erodes
and spins.
Kevin Young

About Kevin Young

Kevin Young - Book of Hours

Photo © Melanie Dunea - CPi

Kevin Young is the author of six previous collections of poetry and editor of five others. Jelly Roll was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and won the Paterson Poetry Prize; For the Confederate Dead won the 2007 Quill Award for poetry. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a United States Artists James Baldwin Fellowship, Young is currently the Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English and curator of Literary Collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University in Atlanta.

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