American Life in Poetry: Column 045


Poets are experts at holding mirrors
to the world. Here Anne Caston, from
Alaska, shows us a commonplace scene.
Haven't we all been in this restaurant
for the Sunday buffet? Caston overlays
the picture with language that, too,
is ordinary, even sloganistic, and overworn.
But by zooming in on the joint of meat
and the belly-up fishes floating in butter,
she compels us to look more deeply into
what is before us, and a room that at first
seemed humdrum becomes rich with inference.

Sunday Brunch at the Old Country Buffet

Madison, Wisconsin, 1996

Here is a genial congregation,
well fed and rosy with health and appetite,
robust children in tow. They have come
and all the generations of them, to be fed,
their old ones too who are eligible now
for a small discount, having lived to a ripe age.
Over the heaped and steaming plates, one by one,
heads bow, eyes close; the blessings are said.

Here there is good will; here peace
on earth, among the leafy greens, among the fruits
of the gardens of America's heartland. Here is
here is the promised
land of milk and honey, out of which
a flank of the fatted calf, thick still
on its socket and bone, rises like a benediction
over the loaves of bread and the little fishes,
belly-up in butter.

Reprinted from "Flying Out with the Wounded,"
New York University Press, 1997. Copyright (c)
1997 by Anne Caston. 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.