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By David Kirby

I have met them in dark alleys, limping and one-armed;   

I have seen them playing cards under a single light-bulb   

and tried to join in, but they refused me rudely,   

knowing I would only let them win.   

I have seen them in the foyers of theaters,   

coming back late from the interval   


long after the others have taken their seats,   

and in deserted shopping malls late at night,   

peering at things they can never buy,   

and I have found them wandering   

in a wood where I too have wandered.   


This morning I caught one;   

small and stupid, too slow to get away,   

it was only a promise I had made to myself once   

and then forgot, but it screamed and kicked at me   

and ran to join the others, who looked at me with reproach   

in their long, sad faces.

When I drew near them, they scurried away,   

even though they will sleep in my yard tonight.   

I hate them for their ingratitude,   

I who have kept countless promises,   

as dead now as Shakespeare’s children.   

“You bastards,” I scream,   

“you have to love me—I gave you life!”


David Kirby, “Broken Promises” from Big-Leg Music (Washington, DC: Orchises Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by David Kirby. Used by permission of the author.

Source: Big-Leg Music (Orchises Press, 1995)

  • Living

Poet Bio

David Kirby
David Kirby was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He received his B.A. from Louisiana State University, and earned his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. He has taught all over America and at international programs in Italy, England, France, and Spain. He is now the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. Influenced by artists as diverse as John Keats and Little Richard, Kirby writes distinctive long-lined narrative poems that braid together high and popular culture, personal memory, philosophy, and humor. See More By This Poet

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