Poem 40 ± July 14, 2015

Sarah Russell
March 20, 1994

The day Fred died
he asked us to sing “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.”
Fred couldn’t sing anymore. Pneumocystis
and radiation had scarred his throat and lungs.
“I’m waiting for the swallows to come back,”
he croaked. “You know, like Capistrano.”

If you go out in the woods today
you’d better go in disguise….

We reminisced about growing up
in the ’50s with Saturday morning’s treat
after chores—the “Big John and Sparky”
radio show, its teddy bear theme song,
and Sparky’s impossible adventures.
Sparky the elf, like Fred, wanted
(more than anything) to be a real boy.

At six o’clock their mommies and daddies
will take them home to bed

we sang as he drifted into a final morphine sleep—
the man who raised enviable tomatoes,
wore cowboy boots, gave huge, enthusiastic hugs,
loved ribald jokes and trimming the tree at Christmas

because they’re tired little teddy bears.

Sarah RussellSarah Russell’s poems have appeared in Red River Review, Misfit Magazine, The Houseboat, Shot Glass Journal, Bijou Poetry Review, Silver Birch Press and Black Poppy Review, among others. For more information visit SarahRussellPoetry.com.

This poem originally appeared under the title “The Day Fred Died” in VerseWrights (March 2014).