The Bill of Rights
by Carl Dennis
You’re free to imagine many lives
Though only one’s allowed your body,
The body you didn’t choose,
Small-boned and thin like Grampa Wheelock’s.
Among the songs your elders sang
You were free to pick the one you preferred
And sing it with your own inflections
To the baby sister you were asked to watch.
It was your decision to save half your summer pay
For the teachers college your uncle went to,
To see its closeness as an advantage.
You were free to walk home on the route you fancied
From Ferguson Elementary to the woman you chose,
The sweetheart with your sister’s long hair
And the dark eyes of Miss Gorse,
Your Latin teacher in high school,
Who told you you’d go far
If you learned to trust your feelings.
Nobody forced you to buy a house
Near the sycamore trees you climbed as a boy.
Its features pleased you most
Just as you’re pleased this sunny Sunday
To climb the ladder and clean the roof drains,
Scooping out mud and sycamore leaves.
And now you choose to pause in your work
And look out over the valley town.
There’s the Dalys’ slate roof
And the Hendersons’ shingles.
There’s the smokestack of the bottle plant
And the blue patch of the water tower.
This must be one of the vistas held out to you
Before you were born, one of the many
You were free to choose from.
And now you’re free to guess what spirit
Guided your pointing hand that day.
You’re free to wonder who whispered in your ear
As clearly as your daughters are calling now,
“Come down, Dad. Come down.”
They want to show you the flowers they found
Streaked like the ones you picked for them last fall
Behind the school you sent them to.