Rita Dove

Great Uncle Beefheart

It was not as if he didn’t try
to tell us: first he claimed
the velvet armchair, then the sun
on the carpet before it. Silence,
too, he claimed, although
we tried to spoil it with humming
and children’s games. There was
that much charm left in the world.

It was not as if he didn’t want
to believe us: he kept himself
neat. Behind his head, the anti-
macassar darkened, surrendered
the fragrance of bergamot.
Things creaked when he touched
them, so he stopped that, too.
He called us “dear little bugs,”

and it was not as if he
acted strange, though our mother
told her mother once
at least his heart was bigger
than any other man’s.
That’s when we called him
Great Uncle Beefheart; and it was not
as if he listened: he just

walked outdoors. Sunflowers
wildly prosperous, took
the daylight and shook it
until our vision ran.
We found him in his shirtsleeves
in the onion patch, shivering
as he cried I can’t go back in
there, I ain’t wearing no clothes.