Gifts by Peter Davison

When I was a child, a heartstruck neighbor died
On her birthday. Dying was strange enough,
But what a way to choose to spend your birthday,
I thought, and what sort of a gift was this?

From time to time, people have done it since--
Dying in the environs of a celebration
As though they had picked out the day themselves.
Perhaps they had, one way or another,
Prayed for something to happen, and prayed wrong.
Sophocles, when old enough to die,
Suspected prayer and entered a caveat:
'Zeus, act kindly whether or not I pray;
And, though I plead for it, turn harm away.'
I keep a wary silence on my birthdays,
Make up no lists at Christmas, lie low
When asked what I really want. How should I know?
Best ask for gifts as though I had none coming.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.