Norbert Krapf: "Goodnight Irene"



Somewhere in my childhood

I hear Leadbelly singing


“Goodnight, Irene,” the melody

arising as if out of the earth,


carried by many voices

reduced to one that has 


been chosen to sing for all.

Then it is joined by a woman’s


voice, one I recognize instantly,

welling up right next to me.


This is my mother, singing

along, as if no choice were


involved, giving herself

to a sound that claimed her


and spoke through her,

as if she wrote it herself.


And so I say goodnight

to Irene, a beautiful woman


whose spirit is reduced to

the sweet sound of a vowel


and “n” that rhyme with keen

and joins with a drawn-out dream


that tugs me to a land

where sleep is enlarged


and extended by the voices

of men and women who give


themselves to an ancient song

that lifts and carries us beyond


ourselves and turns us into

pure sound that wings higher


and soars away to where

blue sky and water are one. 



Norbert Krapf  taught for 34 years at Long Island University, where he directed the C.W. Post Poetry Center.  He has also served as the Indiana Poet Laureate. His recent work includes Sweet Sister Moon (WordTech Editions, 2010) and Bloodroot: Indiana Poems (Indiana University Press, 2008); a prose memoir, The Ripest Moments: A Southern Indiana Childhood (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008); and a poetry and jazz CD with Monika Herzig, Imagine—Indiana in Music and Words (Acme Records, 2007). He also collaborated with Indiana photographer Darryl Jones in Invisible Presence (Indiana University Press, 2006).