A Family’s Fences

by , under books and reading, film, poetry, writing

While I was at Smith College, probably in the spring semester of 1994, I took an American Theater class. It was there that I first heard of August Wilson, and read his award-winning play, Fences. I don’t actually read too many plays, but I’ve always enjoyed attending the performances. (Thinking back, at this moment, it’s clear I haven’t seen enough of them. I ought to try to see more — maybe, sometime.) Occasionally, though, even when it’s on the page instead of a stage, a play’s power and brilliance is clear to me, and I can see and hear it in my imagination, and it thrills and moves me. This is what happened when I read Fences for that literature class. I didn’t need to see the play performed to know it was amazing.

Near the end of the semester, everyone had to research a topic related to something we’d covered in the class, and write a paper. I tried to do that, but hit a wall. However, before having a meltdown, I had a new idea, and thankfully, when I pitched it to my professor, she said I could try it. Instead of doing a paper, I wrote poems inspired by and/or responding to most of the plays we’d read that semester. They weren’t my best work, but they were an honest attempt to express some of what I’d learned from the variety of plays we’d covered. In her notes on the packet I’d given her, my professor actually thanked me for suggesting the project, saying she’d enjoyed reading the poems, especially the one about Fences. I was pleased by that, because I also felt it was the best one in the bunch.

Last weekend, before the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony ended with a brief mix-up about which film actually won Best Picture — which was apparently like the three most confusing minutes in Oscar history, and which dominated all the post-awards discussion — the moment that brought me to tears was the speech by Viola Davis, who won Best Supporting Actress for her work in Fences, playing Rose. I haven’t seen the film yet, because we so rarely go to the movies, but I definitely will see it. And I will love it.


A Family’s Fences

The years pile up, link
together the wants
and defeats
of one and two people,
or three, who think
that being family
is all you need to love.

The roof is leaking,
walls fall off slowly,
and the fence
cannot build itself.
A family cuts its own ties
with its bare teeth.
All leave the yard bleeding.

You cannot forget this:
after all the reaching
toward a television harmony,
death will rush up
and take you on the left.
No fence will be so honest,
then, as your memory,

dressed in blue, waving to you.


This poem appears in my poetry collection entitled Happenings, Heartbeats, and Mental Breakdowns, published in 2015. It’s available in print through Amazon, and in ebook through the other major vendors as well. It’s reasonably-priced, and it’s a pretty good collection (she said modestly). Click here to find it at your preferred vendor.

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