12/30/2007




by Karla Huston

TREASURE


Rich says the desert pack rat
loves to steal sparkly things, loves
to eat wiring and hoses, and can strip

a car engine clean overnight.
He says they sneak up into the cups
of his roof tiles and hide, bringing

their treasures along, and birds roost
in their tracks. The rats always
leave something behind, he says,

something in trade for what they take.
They’re very fair that way.
Once, when he’d left an old pickup truck

in the yard, the pack rats filled it
with cactus and sticks, prickly pear ears
and crammed the engine so full that Rich

didn’t know if there was a motor left
to tune up, to tweak and grease, to rev
and coast into the desert sunset,

the moon oiling the desert sky--
the glitter of all those riches
hidden in some dark sparkling place.


Previously published in Comstock Review, Free Verse, and Verse Daily.

12/20/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 143

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Here is Arizona poet Steve Orlen's lovely tribute to the great opera singer, Maria Callas. Most of us never saw her perform, or even knew what she looked like, but many of us listened to her on the radio or on our parents' record players, perhaps in a parlor like the one in this poem.

In the House of the Voice of Maria Callas

In the house of the voice of Maria Callas
We hear the baby's cries, and the after-supper
Rattle of silverware, and three clocks ticking
To different tunes, and ripe plums
Sleeping in their chipped bowl, and traffic sounds
Dissecting the avenues outside. We hear, like water
Pouring over time itself, the pure distillate arias
Of the numerous pampered queens who have reigned,
And the working girls who have suffered
The envious knives, and the breathless brides
With their horned helmets who have fallen in love
And gone crazy or fallen in love and died
On the grand stage at their appointed moments--
Who will sing of them now? Maria Callas is dead,
Although the full lips and the slanting eyes
And flared nostrils of her voice resurrect
Dramas we are able to imagine in this parlor
On evenings like this one, adding some color,
Adding some order. Of whom it was said:
She could imagine almost anything and give voice to it.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2001 by Steve Orlen. Reprinted from "The Elephant's Child: New & Selected Poems 1978-2005," by Steve Orlen, published by Ausable Press, 2006, by permission of the author. First published in The Gettysburg Review. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

12/13/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 142

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


There's that old business about the tree falling in the middle of the forest with no one to hear it: does it make a noise? Here Linda Gregg, of New York, offers us a look at an elegant beauty that can be presumed to exist and persist without an observer.

Elegance

All that is uncared for.
Left alone in the stillness
in that pure silence married
to the stillness of nature.
A door off its hinges,
shade and shadows in an empty room.
Leaks for light. Raw where
the tin roof rusted through.
The rustle of weeds in their
different kinds of air in the mornings,
year after year.
A pecan tree, and the house
made out of mud bricks. Accurate
and unexpected beauty, rattling
and singing. If not to the sun,
then to nothing and to no one.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Linda Gregg. Reprinted from "In the Middle Distance," Graywolf Press, 2006, by Linda Gregg, with permission of the author and publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

12/06/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 141

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Life becomes more complicated every day, and each of us can control only so much of what happens. As for the rest? Poet Thomas R. Smith of Wisconsin offers some practical advice.

Trust

It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers--
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2003 by Thomas R. Smith. Reprinted from "Waking before Dawn," Thomas R. Smith, Red Dragonfly Press, 2007, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

12/02/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 140

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Here's a holiday poem by Steven Schneider that I like very much for its light spirit and evocative sensory detail. Isn't this a party to which you'd like to be invited?

Chanukah Lights Tonight

Our annual prairie Chanukah party--
latkes, kugel, cherry blintzes.
Friends arrive from nearby towns
and dance the twist to "Chanukah Lights Tonight,"
spin like a dreidel to a klezmer hit.

The candles flicker in the window.
Outside, ponderosa pines are tied in red bows.
If you squint,
the neighbors' Christmas lights
look like the Omaha skyline.

The smell of oil is in the air.
We drift off to childhood
where we spent our gelt
on baseball cards and matinees,
cream sodas and potato knishes.

No delis in our neighborhood,
only the wind howling over the crushed corn stalks.
Inside, we try to sweep the darkness out,
waiting for the Messiah to knock,
wanting to know if he can join the party.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Reprinted from "Prairie Air Show," Talking River Publications, 2000, by permission of Steven Schneider. Poem copyright (c) 2000 by Steven Schneider. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

11/23/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 139

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Man's best friend is, of course, woman's best friend, too. The Illinois poet, Bruce Guernsey, offers us this snapshot of a mutually agreed upon dependency that leads to a domestic communion.

The Lady and the Tramp


As my mother's memory dims
she's losing her sense of smell
and can't remember the toast
blackening the kitchen with smoke
or sniff how nasty the breath of the dog
that follows her yet from room to room,
unable, himself, to hear his own bark.

It's thus they get around,
the wheezing old hound stone deaf
baying like a smoke alarm
for his amnesiac mistress whose back
from petting him is bent forever
as they shuffle towards the flaming toaster
and split the cindered crisp that's left.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Bruce Guernsey, whose newest book, "New England Primer," published by Cherry Grove Collections (WordTech Communications) is due out in 2008. Poem reprinted from "Spoon River Poetry Review", Vol. XXVI, no. 2, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

11/16/2007


By Madhur Anand

Buddha in the Foreground


Might one in a hundred seeds
parachuting from the head of
white-haired dandelion
get distracted by a child's whistle?

Miss the far-fetched promises
of wilder wind
and stranger grasses?

The invisible ant
crawling up my arm
alights the same breezy wish:
to harm less, far-flung.

-from Contemporary Verse 2: Volume 30, Issue 2 (Fall 2007).

11/15/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 138

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


You've surely heard it said that the old ought to move over to make room for the young. But in the best of all possible worlds, people who love their work should be able to do it as long as they wish. Those forced to retire, well, they're a sorry lot. Here the Chicago poet, Deborah Cummins, shows a man trying to adjust to life after work.

At a Certain Age


He sits beside his wife who takes the wheel.
Clutching coupons, he wanders the aisles
of Stop & Save. There's no place he must be,
no clock to punch. Sure,
there are bass in the lake, a balsa model
in the garage, the par-three back nine.
But it's not the same.
Time the enemy then, the enemy now.

As he points the remote at the screen
or pauses at the window, staring
into the neighbor's fence but not really seeing it,
he listens to his wife in the kitchen, more amazed
than ever--how women seem to know
what to do. How, with their cycles and timers,
their rolling boils and three-minute eggs,
they wait for something to start. Or stop.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Deborah Cummins, and reprinted by permission of the author. Deborah Cummins' most recent book of poetry is "Counting the Waves," WordTech Communications, 2007. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

11/08/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 137

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Dill pickles with strawberry jam? Pregnant women are known to go for late night meals like that. And the senses can go haywire. Here Jessy Randall, of Colorado Springs, gives us a look at one such woman.

Superhero Pregnant Woman

Her sense of smell is ten times stronger.
And so her husband smells funny;
she rolls away from him in the bed.
She even smells funny to herself,
but cannot roll away from that.

Why couldn't she get a more useful superpower?
Like the ability to turn invisible, or fly?

The refrigerator laughs at her from its dark corner,
knowing she will have to open it some time
and surrender to its villainous odors.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Jessy Randall. Reprinted from "A Day in Boyland," by Jessy Randall, published by Ghost Road Press, 2007, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

11/01/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 136

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Here's a fine seasonal poem by Todd Davis, who lives and teaches in Pennsylvania. It's about the drowsiness that arrives with the early days of autumn. Can a bear imagine the future? Surely not as a human would, but perhaps it can sense that the world seems to be slowing toward slumber. Who knows?

Sleep

On the ridge above Skelp Road
bears binge on blackberries and apples,
even grapes, knocking down
the Petersens' arbor to satisfy the sweet
hunger that consumes them. Just like us
they know the day must come when
the heart slows, when to take one
more step would mean the end of things
as they should be. Sleep is a drug;
dreams its succor. How better to drift
toward another world but with leaves
falling, their warmth draping us,
our stomachs full and fat with summer?

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Todd Davis. Reprinted from "Some Heaven," by Todd Davis, published by Michigan State University Press, 2007, by permission of the author and publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

10/25/2007


American Life in Poetry: Column 135  
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


What motivates us to keep moving forward through
our lives, despite all the effort required to do
so? Here, North Carolina poet Ruth Moose attributes
human characteristics to an animal to speculate

upon what that force might be.

The Crossing

The snail at the edge of the road
inches forward, a trim gray finger
of a fellow in pinstripe suit.
He's burdened by his house
that has to follow
where he goes. Every inch,
he pulls together
all he is,
all he owns,
all he was given.

The road is wide
but he is called
by something
that knows him
on the other side.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by
The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org),

publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported
by the Department of English at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2004 by Ruth
Moose, whose most recent book of poetry is "The
Sleepwalker," Main Street Rag, 2007. Reprinted from

"75 Poems on Retirement," edited by Robin Chapman
and Judith Strasser, published by University of Iowa
Press, 2007, by permission of the author and publisher.
Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation.
The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United
States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library
of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept
unsolicited manuscripts.

**************************

10/18/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 134

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


When ancient people gathered around the fire at nightfall, I like to think that they told stories, about where each of them had been that day, and what that person had seen in the forest. Those were among our first stories, and we still venture into the world and return to tell others what happened. It's part of community. Here Kathleen Flenniken of Washington tells us about a woman she saw at an airport.

Old Woman With Protea Flowers, Kahalui Airport


She wears the run-down slippers of a local
and in her arms, five rare protea
wrapped in newsprint, big as digger pine cones.
Our hands can't help it and she lets us touch.
Her brother grows them for her, upcountry.
She's spending the day on Oahu
with her flowers and her dogs. Protea
for four dogs' graves, two for her favorite.
She'll sit with him into the afternoon
and watch the ocean from Koolau.
An old woman's paradise, she tells us,
and pets the flowers' soft, pink ears.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Kathleen Flenniken, whose most recent book of poetry is "Famous," University of Nebraska Press, 2006. Poem reprinted by permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

10/11/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 133
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


It may be that we are most alone when attending funerals, at least that's how it seems to me. By alone I mean that even among throngs of mourners we pull back within ourselves and peer out at life as if through a window. David
Baker, an Ohio poet, offers us a picture of a funeral that could be anybody's.

Afterwards

A short ride in the van, then the eight of us
there in the heat--white shirtsleeves sticking,
the women's gloves off--fanning our faces.
The workers had set up a big blue tent

to help us at graveside tolerate the sun,
which was brutal all afternoon as if
stationed above us, though it moved limb
to limb through two huge, covering elms.

The long processional of neighbors, friends,
the town's elderly, her beauty-shop patrons,
her club's notables. . . The world is full of
prayers arrived at from afterwards, he said.

Look up through the trees--the hands, the leaves
curled as in self-control or quietly hurting,
or now open, flat-palmed, many-fine-veined,
and whether from heat or sadness, waving.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) by David Baker, whose most recent book of poetry is "Midwest Eclogue," W. W. Norton, 2006. Reprinted from "Virginia Quarterly Review," Winter, 2004, by permission of David Baker. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts

10/04/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 132

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Children at play give personalities to lifeless objects, and we don't need to give up that pleasure as we grow older. Poets are good at discerning life within what otherwise might seem lifeless. Here the poet Peter Pereira, a family physician in the Seattle area, contemplates a smiling statue, and in that moment of contemplation the smile is given by the statue to the man.

The Garden Buddha

Gift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen,
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers,
he gazes forward to the city in the distance--always

the same bountiful smile upon his portly face.
Why don't I share his one-minded happiness?
The pear blossom, the crimson-petaled magnolia,
filling me instead with a mixture of nostalgia

and yearning. He's laughing at me, isn't he?
The seasons wheeling despite my photographs
and notes, my desire to make them pause.
Is that the lesson? That stasis, this holding on,

is not life? Now I'm smiling, too--the late cherry,
its soft pink blossoms already beginning to scatter;
the trillium, its three-petaled white flowers
exquisitely tinged with purple as they fall.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) by Peter Pereira. Reprinted from "What's Written on the Body" by Peter Pereira, Copper Canyon Press, 2007, by permission of the author and publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

9/27/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 131

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Sometimes beginning writers tell me they get discouraged because it seems that everything has already been written about. But every experience, however commonplace, is unique to he or she who seizes it. There have undoubtedly been many poems about how dandelions pass from yellow to wind-borne gossamer, but this one by the Maryland poet, Jean Nordhaus, offers an experience that was unique to her and is a gift to us.

A Dandelion for My Mother

How I loved those spiky suns,
rooted stubborn as childhood
in the grass, tough as the farmer's
big-headed children--the mats
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe.
How sturdy they were and how
slowly they turned themselves
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars
barely visible by day, pale
cerebrums clinging to life
on tough green stems. Like you.
Like you, in the end. If you were here,
I'd pluck this trembling globe to show
how beautiful a thing can be
a breath will tear away.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Jean Nordhaus. Reprinted from "Innocence," by Jean Nordhaus, published by Ohio State University Press, 2006, with permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

9/20/2007


American Life in Poetry: Column 130

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


A number of American poets are adept at describing places and the people who inhabit them. Galway Kinnell's great poem, "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World" is one of those masterpieces, and there are many others. Here
Anne Pierson Wiese, winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, adds to that tradition.

Columbus Park

Down at the end of Baxter Street, where Five Points
slum used to be, just north of Tombs, is a pocket park.
On these summer days the green plane trees' leaves
linger heavy as a noon mist above
the men playing mah jongg--more Chinese
in the air than English. The city's composed
of village greens; we rely on the Thai
place on the corner: Tom Kha for a cold,
jasmine tea for fever, squid for love, Duck Yum
for loneliness. Outside, the grove of heat,
narrow streets where people wrestle rash and unseen
angels; inside, the coolness of a glen and the wait staff
in their pale blue collars offering ice water.
Whatever you've done or undone, there's a dish for you
to take out or eat in: spice for courage, sweet for chagrin.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2003 by Anne Pierson Wiese. Reprinted from "Floating City," by Anne Pierson Wiese, published by Louisiana State University Press, 2007, with the permission of the author and publisher. Poem first published in "West Branch." Introduction copyright (c) 2007 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

9/13/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 129


BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


North Carolina poet, Betty Adcock, has written scores of
beautiful poems, almost all of them too long for this space.
Here is an example of her shorter work, the telling
description of a run-down border town.

Louisiana Line

The wooden scent of wagons,
the sweat of animals--these places
keep everything--breath of the cotton gin,
black damp floors of the icehouse.

Shadows the color of a mirror's back
break across faces. The luck
is always bad. This light is brittle,
old pale hair kept in a letter.
The wheeze of porch swings and lopped gates
seeps from new mortar.

Wind from an axe that struck wood
a hundred years ago
lifts the thin flags of the town.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry
Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry
magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English
at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 1975
by Betty Adcock. Reprinted from "Walking Out," Louisiana
State University Press, 1975, with permission of Betty Adcock,
whose most recent book is "Intervale: New and Selected Poems,"
Louisiana State University Press, 2001. Introduction copyright (c)
2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted
Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in
Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not
accept unsolicited manuscripts.

******************************

8/30/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 127
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Poet Marianne Boruch of Indiana finds a bird's nest near her door. It is the simplest of discoveries, yet she uses it to remind us that what at first seems ordinary, even "made a mess of," can be miraculously transformed upon careful reflection.

Nest

I walked out, and the nest
was already there by the step. Woven basket
of a saint
sent back to life as a bird
who proceeded to make
a mess of things. Wind
right through it, and any eggs
long vanished. But in my hand it was
intricate pleasure, even the thorny reeds
softened in the weave. And the fading
leaf mold, hardly
itself anymore, merely a trick
of light, if light
can be tricked. Deep in a life
is another life. I walked out, the nest
already by the step.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 1996 by Marianne Boruch, whose most recent book of poetry is "Poems: New and Selected," Oberlin College Press, 2004. Reprinted from "A Stick That Breaks And Breaks," Oberlin College Press, 1997, with permission Of the author. First published in the journal "Field." Introduction copyright (c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

8/23/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 126

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


The British writer Virginia Woolf wrote about the pleasures of having a room of one's own. Here the Vermont poet Karin Gottshall shows us her own sort of private place.

The Raspberry Room

It was solid hedge, loops of bramble and thorny
as it had to be with its berries thick as bumblebees.
It drew blood just to get there, but I was queen
of that place, at ten, though the berries shook like fists
in the wind, daring anyone to come in. I was trying
so hard to love this world--real rooms too big and full
of worry to comfortably inhabit--but believing I was born
to live in that cloistered green bower: the raspberry patch
in the back acre of my grandparents' orchard. I was cross-
stitched and beaded by its fat, dollmaker's needles. The effort
of sliding under the heavy, spiked tangles that tore
my clothes and smeared me with juice was rewarded
with space, wholly mine, a kind of room out of
the crush of the bushes with a canopy of raspberry
dagger-leaves and a syrup of sun and birdsong.
Hours would pass in the loud buzz of it, blood
made it mine--the adventure of that red sting singing
down my calves, the place the scratches brought me to:
just space enough for a girl to lie down.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2007 by Karin Gottshall. Reprinted from "Crocus," by Karin Gottshall, published by Fordham University Press, 2007, with permission of the author and publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

8/20/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 125

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


The American poet, Ezra Pound, once described the faces of people in a rail station as petals on a wet black bough. That was roughly seventy-five years ago. Here Barry Goldensohn of New York offers a look at a contemporary subway station. Not petals, but people all the same.

Subway

The station platform, clean and broad, his stage
for push-ups, sit-ups, hamstring stretch,
as he laid aside his back pack, from which
his necessaries bulged, as he bulged
through jeans torn at butt, knee and thigh,
in deep palaver with himself--sigh,
chatter, groan. Deranged but common.
We sat at a careful distance to spy
on his performance, beside a woman
in her thirties, dressed as in her teens--
this is L.A.--singing to herself.
How composed, complete and sane
she seemed. A book by the Dalai Lama
in her hands, her face where pain and wrong
were etched, here becalmed, with faint chirps
leaking from the headphones of her walkman.
Not talking. Singing, lost in song.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry
Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry
magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English
at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)
2006 by Barry Goldensohn, whose most recent book of poetry
is "East Long Pond" (with Lorrie Goldensohn), Cummington
Press, 1998. Reprinted from "Salmagundi," Fall, 2006, No.
152, with permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c)
2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's
author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate
Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.
We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

******************************

8/09/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 124

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Here is a lovely poem about survival by Patrick Phillips of New York. People sometimes ask me "What are poems for?" and "Matinee" is an example of the kind of writing that serves its readers, that shows us a way of carrying on.

Matinee

After the biopsy,
after the bone scan,
after the consult and the crying,

for a few hours no one could find them,
not even my sister,
because it turns out

they'd gone to the movies.
Something tragic was playing,
something epic,

and so they went to the comedy
with their popcorn
and their cokes,

the old wife whispering everything twice,
the old husband
cupping a palm to his ear,

as the late sun lit up an orchard
behind the strip mall,
and they sat in the dark holding hands.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Patrick Phillips, whose latest book is "Chattahoochee,"University of Arkansas Press, 2004. Reprinted from the "Greensboro Review," Fall 2006, No. 80, with permission of the author. Introduction copyright ©) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

8/02/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 123


BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


There is a type of poem, the Found Poem, that records an author's
discovery of the beauty that occasionally occurs in
the everyday
discourse of others. Such a poem might be words
scrawled on a
wadded scrap of paper, or buried in the
classified ads, or on a
billboard by the road. The poet makes it
his or her poem by holding
it up for us to look at. Here the
Washington, D.C., poet
Joshua Weiner
directs us to the poetry
in a letter written not
by him but to him.


Found Letter


What makes for a happier life, Josh, comes to this:
Gifts freely given, that you never earned;
Open affection with your wife and kids;
Clear pipes in winter, in summer screens that fit;
Few days in court, with little consequence;
A quiet mind, a strong body, short hours
In the office; close friends who speak the truth;
Good food, cooked simply; a memory that's rich
Enough to build the future with; a bed
In which to love, read, dream, and re-imagine love;
A warm, dry field for laying down in sleep,
And sleep to trim the long night coming;
Knowledge of who you are, the wish to be
None other; freedom to forget the time;
To know the soul exceeds where it's confined
Yet does not seek the terms of its release,
Like a child's kite catching at the wind
That flies because the hand holds tight the line.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also
supported by the Department of English
at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem
copyright (c) 2006 by Joshua Weiner.
Reprinted from
“From the Book of Giants," University of Chicago
Press, 2006,
by permission of the author. Introduction copyright
(c) 2006
by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author,
Ted
Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in
Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept
unsolicited manuscripts.

7/29/2007




by Alan MacKellar

Sycamore on Parker’s Mill Road


……The beauty of the tree lies in its trunk and
branches, whitish and dappled withgray-green
and tan. Wharton and Barbour,
Trees & Shrubs of Kentucky,
University Press of Kentucky, KY, 1973.


What part of me knows?
The rime of your eyes
must have told me.
I’d brought you a PC
a fucking computer,
for god’s sake,
a trigger at your head. Then
I say, Why don’t you take
some art, some more
dancing classes?

Last year you had it all, I think;
pride of NC School of the Arts,
when Amanda asks you to choose
between me and Stephen,
you choose nine hundred miles,
a motel in Ft. Lauderdale,
a failed slash of wrists.
A week, eight days, no money
you call for help. We choose
an eighteen day miracle
cure at Charter Ridge.
You’re twenty-one,
your folder confidential.

I wear sunglasses
in a darkened room.
Hey, Wimbledon’s
on this weekend,
I say, come on over.
I think you smile.
Count on me, Dad.

At ninety miles an hour
on the loneliest stretch
of Parker’s Mill Road,
your radio turned full volume,
do you hear that last song?

This time you take
no chances, line yourself
with the broadest tree,
feel the bullet recoil against
your hand then course
through your head, before
the whites of the sycamore,
dappled with gray-green
and tan, turn red.
-First published in Wind

7/27/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 122


BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


The chances are very good that you are within a thousand yards of
a man with a comb-over, and he may even be somewhere in
your
house. Here's Maine poet, Wesley McNair, with his commentary

on these valorous attempts to disguise hair loss.


Hymn to the Comb-Over

How the thickest of them erupt just
above the ear, cresting in waves so stiff
no wind can move them. Let us praise them
in all of their varieties, some skinny
as the bands of headphones, some rising
from a part that extends halfway around
the head, others four or five strings
stretched so taut the scalp resembles
a musical instrument. Let us praise the sprays
that hold them, and the combs that coax
such abundance to the front of the head
in the mirror, the combers entirely forget
the back. And let us celebrate the combers,
who address the old sorrow of time's passing
day after day, bringing out of the barrenness
of mid-life this ridiculous and wonderful
harvest, no wishful flag of hope, but, thick,
or thin, the flag itself, unfurled for us all
in subways, offices, and malls across America.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also
supported by the Department of English at the University of
Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Wesley McNair.

Reprinted from "The Ghosts of You and Me," published by David R.

Godine, 2006, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright

(c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's
author,
Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant
in
Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not
accept
unsolicited manuscripts.
******************************

7/23/2007




by Ellen Saunders

Spring to Spring


Through seasons passing spring to spring
with diligence I tried to love you more.
In sultry days all I could bring
were wilted summer flowers to your door;
a dying bouquet that once was new
and fresh as a day arising from night,
a time I'd lie entwined with you
and watch the window turn from dark to light.
But here we are in the late of fall
counting the days that shrink and hide
as leaves turn to brown while I recall
their shade in summer before they died
and still I cannot love you anymore
than I did when winter came before.

-originally appeared in The Lyric

7/22/2007




by Felecia Caton Garcia

El Mozote, El Salvador, 1992


The afternoon rain rinses the small hand bones
of children. The archeologists lift stiff brushes

and carve the earth. Skeletal fingers clutch
a small orange plastic horse. Stiff brushes

clenched in their hands, they sift the red dust.
They whisper the names of the bones: tibia, metatarsal,

vertebrae. I want to send death begging on a train,
far from here and hungry. How far could death

get on an orange plastic horse? All around me
is the song of common words: mirror, comb, child’s shoe.

We are here to discover what happened then,
but I want to know what happens now.

The gray sky is a stroke of luck. My fingers
clutch the small hand bones of children.

-originally appeared in The Indiana Review

7/05/2007



American Life in Poetry: Column 119

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


I'm especially attracted to poems that describe places I might not otherwise visit, in the manner of good travel writing. I'm a dedicated stay-at-home and much prefer to read something fascinating about a place than visit it myself. Here the Hawaii poet, Joseph Stanton, describes a tree that few of us have seen but all of us have eaten from.

Banana Trees

They are tall herbs, really, not trees,
though they can shoot up thirty feet
if all goes well for them. Cut in cross

section they look like gigantic onions,
multi-layered mysteries with ghostly hearts.
Their leaves are made to be broken by the wind,

if wind there be, but the crosswise tears
they are built to expect do them no harm.
Around the steady staff of the leafstalk

the broken fronds flap in the breeze
like brief forgotten flags, but these
tattered, green, photosynthetic machines

know how to grasp with their broken fingers
the gold coins of light that give open air
its shine. In hot, dry weather the fingers

fold down to touch on each side--
a kind of prayer to clasp what damp they can
against the too much light.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Joseph Stanton. Reprinted from "A Field Guide to the Wildlife of Suburban O'ahu," Time Being Books, 2006, with permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

7/01/2007


American Life in Poetry: Column 118

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


Our species has developed monstrous weapons that can kill not only all of us but everything else on the planet, yet when the wind rises we run for cover, as we have done for as long as we've been on this earth. Here's hoping we never have the skill or arrogance to conquer the weather. And weather stories? We tell them in the same way our ancestors related encounters with fearsome dragons. This poem by Minnesota poet Warren Woessner honors the tradition by sharing an experience with a hurricane.

Alberto

When the wind clipped
the whitecaps, and the flags
came down before they shredded,
we knew it was no nor'easter.
The Blue Nose ferry stayed
on course, west out of Yarmouth,
while 100 miles of fog
on the Bay blew away.

The Captain let us stand
on the starboard bridge
and scan a jagged range.
Shearwaters skimmed the peaks
while storm petrels hunted valleys
that slowly filled with gold.
Alberto blew out in the Atlantic.
We came back to earth
that for days might tip and sway
and cast us back to sea.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 1998 by Warren Woessner, whose book of poetry, "Clear All the Rest of the Way" is forthcoming from The Backwaters Press. Reprinted from "Iris Rising," BkMk Press of UMKC, 1998, with permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

6/23/2007




by Robin Chapman


The Inspector of Snowstorms


Retiring, I look for a new occupation, want
to appoint myself, like Thoreau, an inspector
of weather, but there’s so much else to do—
bicycle trails to walk or ride, garlic mustard
to pull, the crane count to make in the marsh,
the prairie to burn and sow; or, slower still,
the woods to walk about, ears tuning in
the stations of wood duck and vireo, oriole
and crow, or the eye finding the prisms
of morning beaded on wild geranium leaves,
light brushed by the mouse ears of oak
overhead, each day new in the marsh, each evening
visiting a friend like Emerson or Alcott,
each night the heart wandering through words
like the eye through the spinning stars of summer,
or the winter veils of never-the-same snowflakes
weighting the stripped trees and underbrush.

-originally appeared in Nimrod. From On Retirement: 75 Poems, edited by Robin Chapman & Judith Strasser (University of Iowa Press, 2007).

6/21/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 117
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


The subdivision; it's all around us. Here Nancy Botkin of Indiana presents a telling picture of life in such a neighborhood, the parents downstairs in their stultifying dailiness, the children enjoying their youth under the eaves before the passing years force them to join the adults.

Geometry

All the roofs sloped at the same angle.
The distance between the houses was the same.
There were so many feet from each front door
to the curb. My father mowed the lawn
straight up and down and then diagonally.
And then he lined up beer bottles on the kitchen table.

We knew them only in summer when the air
passed through the screens. The neighbor girls
talked to us across the great divide: attic window
to attic window. We started with our names.
Our whispers wobbled along a tightrope,
and below was the rest of our lives.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Nancy Botkin. Reprinted from "Poetry East," Spring, 2006, by permission of the author, whose full-length book of poems, "Parts That Were Once Whole," is available from Mayapple Press, 2007. Introduction copyright (c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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6/14/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 116

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006


It's the oldest kind of story: somebody ventures deep into the woods and comes back with a tale. Here Roy Jacobstein returns to America to relate his experience on a safari to the place believed by archaeologists to be the original site of human life. And against this ancient backdrop he closes with a suggestion of the brevity of our lives.

Safari, Rift Valley

Minutes ago those quick cleft hoofs
lifted the dik-dik's speckled frame.
Now the cheetah dips her delicate head
to the still-pulsating guts. Our Rover's
so close we need no zoom to fix the green
shot of her eyes, the matted red mess
of her face. You come here, recall a father
hale in his ordinary life, not his last bed,
not the long tasteless slide of tapioca.
This is the Great Rift, where it all began,
here where the warthogs amd hartebeest
feed in the scrub, giraffes splay to drink,
and our rank diesel exhaust darkens the air
for only a few moments before vanishing.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Roy Jacobstein, whose most recent book is "A Form of Optimism," University Press of New England, 2006. Reprinted by permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. ******************************

6/13/2007



by Janet Taliaferro

TODAY

my grandchildren, quarrelling in the bedroom
made me remember how much
I hated him.

Three years older, he got to do everything
I wanted to do.

He thought of me as spoiled and pampered
and I thought of him as privileged in that special way
a first born can be.

He was an expert tease, careful to ply his trade
out of sight or hearing of our parents
and sometimes teasing
pushed at the edges
of abuse.

I cried
and earned that superior contempt
reserved for younger siblings.

I raged
and the punishment I felt he deserved
came down on me like red fire.

I competed
but victories came only in their due time
like the driver’s license I coveted.

Life’s eraser dimmed the lines
transformed the hate
into a bond I miss.

Today
I am one day older than he will ever be.

-originally appeared in Northern Virginia Review

6/08/2007




American Life in Poetry: Column 115

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Each of the senses has a way of evoking time and place. In this bittersweet poem by Jeffrey Harrison of Massachusetts, birdsong offers reassurance as the speaker copes with loss.

Visitation

Walking past the open window, she is surprised
by the song of the white-throated sparrow
and stops to listen. She has been thinking of
the dead ones she loves--her father who lived
over a century, and her oldest son, suddenly gone
at forty-seven--and she can't help thinking
she has called them back, that they are calling her
in the voices of these birds passing through Ohio
on their spring migration. . . because, after years
of summers in upstate New York, the white-throat
has become something like the family bird.
Her father used to stop whatever he was doing
and point out its clear, whistling song. She hears it
again: "Poor Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody."
She tries not to think, "Poor Andy," but she
has already thought it, and now she is weeping.
But then she hears another, so clear, it's as if
the bird were in the room with her, or in her head,
telling her that everything will be all right.
She cannot see them from her second-story window--
they are hidden in the new leaves of the old maple,
or behind the white blossoms of the dogwood--
but she stands and listens, knowing they will stay
for only a few days before moving on.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Jeffrey Harrison. Reprinted from "Incomplete Knowledge", Four Way Books, 2006, with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Introduction copyright (c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.