by David Salner


November 19, 1968

He could have been the seventy-ninth.
It was his first job, and he couldn't sleep.
After the moon rose, he stared through the window
into the backyard, which he'd just mowed, to the
creek, overgrown with sumacs and maples.

He heard the tires slick by in the rain,
walked past his parents' door, and listened
to the sound his father made, the breathing.
His father worked daylights at the face
but already he couldn't sleep lying down.

His mother looked tired in the kitchen light
from the dust– but more from contending
with everything else. "Your bucket's ready.
Eat something." He looked into his hands
and then the boy spoke"I could get a job

in the glass plant or the carbon factory."
More hoot-owl traffic went by in the rain
and one of the cars pulled into the drive.
For a moment, she stared at her son
as if she were giving him a bath and needed

to study his body for cuts or bruises.
Then she got up, breaking the watch,
and waved the car on. It sped off, late now,
for hoot-owl shift at Consol Number Nine.
Five months later, the mine kept exploding

even after they sealed the portal with concrete
and steel–on the other seventy-eight.

-first appeared in The Potomac Review.


American Life in Poetry: Column 022 BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
In this short poem by Vermont writer Jean L. Connor, an older speaker challenges the perception that people her age have lost their vitality and purpose. Connor compares the life of such a person to an egret fishing. Though the bird stands completely still, it has learned how to live in the world, how to sustain itself, and is capable of quick action when the moment is right.

Of Some Renown

For some time now, I have
lived anonymously. No one
appears to think it odd.
They think the old are,
well, what they seem. Yet
see that great egret

at the marsh's edge, solitary,
still? Mere pretense
that stillness. His silence is
a lie. In his own pond he is
of some renown, a stalker,
a catcher of fish. Watch him.

Reprinted from "Passager," 2001 by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2001 by Jean L. Connor whose first book of poetry, "A Cartography of Peace," is published by Passager Books, Baltimore. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.


by Judith Strasser

The Astronomers

They debate the meaning of rifts
on Jupiter's cracked, crazed,
planet-like moon. Oceans roiling under
the surface? An eggshell coating of ice?
And the off-center wobbles of stars--
do they suggest the orbits of planets,
or nearby brown dwarves, unlit?

The astronomers tune mechanical ears
to search for the song of intelligent life.

One night I take Teisha, 11 and poor,
to the observatory. I want her to know
the opening dome, shadowed craters,
bright lunar disc, worlds beyond her own.
As we walk up the hill, she tells me the plot
of She's Having A Baby. She can't believe
I've never seen it; she's rented it seven times.

She peers through the telescope, shrugs. She sees
a slice of holey cheese; no man, no mystery.

When the astronomers find what they're
seeking (an audible sigh, fragments
of proteins) we will know that we're
not unique. What life they find will also be
a little lower than angels. We'll be left
to our children, like Teisha, who says--
walking back to the car through the silvery night--

I can't wait to have babies. My cousin has
a new baby, round-faced, bright as the moon.

-first appeared in Blue Unicorn, February 2005


by Maxine Scates


The cut office hours, kids sitting
outside in sunlight, spring, concrete

and cigarette butts, the grass still sodden
with winter, all the wisdom they don’t have

and what little they know about themselves,
their own godliness, their own greed,

all falling away as the man at the lectern
tried to say something about the woman

he’d loved those afternoons, voice quavering,
birds tumbling in flight, seats creaking, students

settling. He was old, the pause seemed
almost holy, the late strings of Beethoven

hovering then answering, as if he would give
that long ago lover a gift, offer again

the moments before consequence, like those summer
mornings when having dreamt you so long

it seemed I had not yet awakened when you came
to me in the room under the eaves. Afterwards

we’d sit on the porch looking out at the garden,
the apple tree just past blossoming, the grape

arbor where the cat slept. I knew
you were married, but good or bad wasn’t part of it,

not yet, maybe that’s what the man meant,
the time between where we belonged to nothing,

still innocent, no one bruised, nothing broken.
Not until late in the summer when you left her,

when you asked if I’d thought what it meant for us–
not until then the scrim of dirty edges

I didn’t want, unready, but when you thought
of returning I knew what I wanted. On August

nights like this one, the ballgame on low,
the dog asleep on the floor, I remember

how the light hung then, heavy, burnished,
the unpicked apples falling into gutters all over town.

-from Black Loam. Originally appeared in North American Review.


by Jeri McCormick

Assurances of Trees

Death has come and gone again
and I walk my loss on paths
in northern woods, where high
presences weave a canopy

of comfort, recite a canticle
of grief. The oaks, brown
as monks in their rumpled habits;
the firs serene and symmetrical

in their thick green vestments;
birches wild as evangelists
waving their holy-ghost arms—
an ecumenical forest densely

sprung from leaf-nurtured soil,
sanctified centuries ago
by tribes of the lake country.
I think of my own forebears,

frontier-drawn from the colonies,
persevering across New World
generations, their branches hung
with hardship. So many offspring

they saw into life, so many buried
in mountain graves and city plots.
Still, we abide; tenacious, root-
sustained, we hold our ground.

-First appeared in Cup of Poems, No. 8


by Grace Cavalieri

I accept a path with strange signals

People brush my footprints away.
Tea alone today then my walk the V shaped sky
The brown hawk luminous green on the pigeon in the countryside
A field of dry sunflowers,

God allows this walk so, tell me then…
How much should a person be listened to?
How much…

My room inside so small, tonight cool air outside,
Only a window between.
Spirit that feels like terror – Love that is hooked to hate -
These make up my surface.
It will break open to a knowing you would not want to hear.

A flower is called ‘the end of things.’ I want it, still.
I will leave this house of anger and close The door behind.

I remember a black butterfly shining so blue
I thought it was a bluebird.
Being happy in spite of pain,
That’s what God is. Or maybe the pain is God’s way.
For without misery, I would not know Him.

from What I Would Do For Love: poems in the voice of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1767) Jacaranda Press (c2004)


by Kim Roberts


At night their pulsing bodies lean and sway
in the tide. With tongues as big as anchors,
they moor in salty grass and dream of stones.
They like to steer their course by the Pleiades.
They bless us by alighting on our shore.
By day, they portage slowly over fields
and drag behind a feeble rudder, just
a strip of leather coated with green flies.
They trawl for shade beneath the summer trees,
and sometimes sound a foghorn from a brig.
They bob like a flotilla by the fence,
some up, some down, some caught between the two
as if between two worlds, kneeling in prayer.

-First appeared in Laurel Review, Vol. 30, No. 2, 1996.


American Life in Poetry: Column 020


In this fascinating poem by the California poet, Jane Hirshfield, the speaker discovers that through paying attention to an event she has become part of it, has indeed become inseparable from the event and its implications. This is more than an act of empathy. It speaks, in my reading of it, to the perception of an order into which all creatures and events are fitted, and are essential.

The Woodpecker Keeps Returning

The woodpecker keeps returning
to drill the house wall.
Put a pie plate over one place, he chooses another.

There is nothing good to eat there:
he has found in the house
a resonant billboard to post his intentions,
his voluble strength as provider.

But where is the female he drums for? Where?

I ask this, who am myself the ruined siding,
the handsome red-capped bird, the missing mate.

Poem copyright (c) 2005 by Jane Hirshfield from her forthcoming book "After" (Harper Collins, 2006), and reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.


by CX Dillhunt

More Haiku from China:

I'll write this poem
when the tallest pine tree sticks
to the full moon cake

Himalaya pine
looks down on me speaking tall
and green forever

Sunday afternoon
flute practicing in garden
all roses listening

Walking under these
parasol trees with you just
walking not talking

One wasp circling
the classroom hanging around
looking for the answer

Sorting the garbage
with this afternoon shade--look
today is different


American Life in Poetry: Column 019


At the beginning of the famous novel, "Remembrance of Things Past," the mere taste of a biscuit started Marcel Proust on a seven-volume remembrance. Here a bulldozer turns up an old doorknob, and look what happens in Shirley Buettner's imagination.


While clearing the west
quarter for more cropland,
the Cat quarried
a porcelain doorknob

oystered in earth,
grained and crazed
like an historic egg,
with a screwless stem of

rusted and pitted iron.
I turn its cold white roundness
with my palm and
open the oak door

fitted with oval glass,
fretted with wood ivy,
and call my frontier neighbor.
Her voice comes distant but

clear, scolding children
in overalls
and highbutton shoes.
A bucket of fresh eggs and

a clutch of rhubarb rest
on her daisied oil-cloth.
She knew I would knock someday,
wanting in.

From "Walking Out the Dark" (Juniper Press, 1984). Copyright (c) 1984 by Shirley Buettner and reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.


by Sandy Stark

February Feathers

Today I opened the second drawer
on the left side of the dark brown desk
and took out the cards you gave me
for Valentine’s Day, the same day
we decided to celebrate the cat’s birthday,
calling him our sweetheart, Mr. Max.

Now Max and I are left here looking
for the first sign of a long winter’s end--
a change in the cardinal’s call,
the house finch at the feeder--
the bright red glow of the one,
the rosy pink of the next.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s how to be undone
by the wish to leap backwards in time.
As for stiff-legged Mr. Max,
today I like to think he too dreams
of being younger and lighter- boned,
of the days of wing-like leaps,
and the taste of feathers on the tongue.

-originally published in the 2005
Wisconsin Poets Calendar