On a soft summer Virginia evening Shelly Wagner was pushing her five-year-old son in a tire swing in the backyard, idling away the hours between dinner and bedtime. She left him only for a moment, but when she returned Andrew had disappeared. He was found later that night, drowned in the river behind their home.
From the depths of grief that followed, Wagner began to write poems--not as therapy, she says, but to see if she could express the range of her experience more fully than the published books she'd read. What emerged from Wagner's quest is a volume of verse that has comforted and inspired thousands of parents, patients, and other determined survivors.
These clear, unflinching poems wherein she evokes the life and death of her five-year-old son are moving and unforgettable. . . . You will remember Andrew as if you had known him, this delightful boy. --RUTH STONE
Follow my hand into this trunk.
Examine for yourself its treasure.
Lift and read the heavy wooden board,
a scrap of lumber
on which he scrawled his name--
red letters, all capitals,
the E backwards.
In kindergarten he learned
to sign perfectly his many drawings,
the jewels of his last will and testament.
Try on his brilliant yellow sunglasses.
See the world as he saw it--clearly
full of hope.
Slide your hand up the sleeve
of his favorite red shirt
as though you were to tickle him.
He would laugh. You may cry.
Finally, with utmost care,
hold what he made in nursery school--
a white plaster cast of his hand,
fingers spread wide apart
as though he were telling you
how old he would be when he died.
After graduating in 1969 from Old Dominion University with a B.A. in English, Shelly Wagner worked as a social worker for foster-care children, in a home for unwed mothers, and as an interior designer.
Five years after the death of her younger son, Andrew, who drowned in 1984, she began writing her elegiac poems. Her poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Poetry East, ONTHEBUS, and TriQuarterly.
She lives in Norfolk, Virginia, with her husband, John, an orthopedic surgeon, her son, Thomas, a senior at Hampden-Sydney College, and their Golden Retriever, Rusty. She is currently at work on a collection of nonfiction essays.