Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Robert Hayden (1913–1980) was raised by foster parents in a household of “chronic angers” that left him with lifetime bouts of depression. Influenced by W.H. Auden, under whom he studied at the University of Michigan, and by the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Hayden’s work is marked by eloquence and humanity. Upon his marriage in 1940, Hayden converted to the Bah’ai faith. “Those Winter Sundays” is from the Collected Poems of Robert Hayden, edited by Frederick Glaysher, published by Liveright, and reprinted with permission.