The University of Wisconsin Press

Memoir / Literature / Death & Grieving


A Child's Death and Life
Robert Peters

"Feather is compelling and beautiful, heart-breaking and life-affirming, numbly desperate and fiercely optimistic. Peters' images endure and haunt."—Colleen Kennedy, College of William and Mary

With great tenderness, poet and critic Robert Peters recalls the brief life and sudden death of his son Richard, a four-year-old called "Feather " by his sister Meredith and brother Rob. Feather returns home ill one day from nursery school, spends the afternoon in bed with his father and his stuffed toy seal, and dies that evening. Looking back after decades on that February day in 1960, when the skinned knees, colds, and fevers of childhood were obliterated by the unthinkable—fatal meningitis—Peters sees with harrowing clarity the image of that little boy in the tugboat pajamas lying still on a gurney, one bare foot visible at the edge of the sheet. He recalls his anger, his confusion: "What shall I do with my hands?"

Feather: A Child's Death and Life is an album of poetic and sometimes visceral snapshots: portraits of a family, a house, a strained marriage, a father reading poems to his children, a young academic struggling to establish himself, Peters catches his family in moments of almost transcendent joy and crushing grief. The children's happiness on Christmas morning, in summer at a Canadian lake, or ice skating is shadowed by lessons in accepting death: a succession of pet turtles, mice, and goldfish succumb; Dad butchers the Thanksgiving turkey, nicknamed "Gobble," in the snowy backyard.

The fourth book in Robert Peters' series of memoirs, Feather not only illuminates the lives of father and child, but also reflects a moment in the life of a writer, as Peters' grief for his son finds expression in his first collection of poetry, Songs for a Son.

From reviews of Robert Peters' previous memoir, For You, Lili Marlene

"Readers encountering this chapter of Peters' life will want to seek out his other memoirs and will eagerly await the next installment."—Library Journal

"An elegantly written memoir."—Publishers Weekly

Robert Peters has retired from many years of teaching literature at the University of California, Irvine. His many volumes of poetry and plays include Poems: Selected and New, 1967–1991; Songs for a Son; The Gift to Be Simple; and Ludwig of Bavaria.

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Feather: A Child's Death and Life

May 1997
232 pp. 15 b/w photos 6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-299-15360-1

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