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Read Kuusisto's poem
Elegy for Lucy Grealy




"She'd make me cut wood, wash clothes and build a fire under the pot. ... People thought that was abusive. My mother had the attitude 'He's got to learn, and just because he's blind doesn't mean he's stupid.'" -- Interview with Ray Charles, reported June 11, 2004 by Reuters UK

Elegy for Ray Charles
And His Mother

by Stephen Kuusisto

Ray, no one knows what it's like to carry water
The way your mother made you carry it --

Even the boy Pharaoh
Wore a yoke on his shoulders

Just to show he was a man.
History doesn't matter much,

At least until your child
"Done gone blind" -- your Mama saw it --

"You always got to carry water," she said.
"This ain't no kidding around."

Long time
You carried water

In both hands,
Feeling for the path

With your feet.
Ray, your Mama knew --

A song comes that way --
Or else it never will.

Laugh or cry it's the same.
A Mockingbird listens from a telephone wire.

Long time, water, both hands.

Poet Stephen Kuusisto's most recent book is Only Bread, Only Light. He teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Ohio State University in Columbus.


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