12/23/2008




American Life in Poetry: Column 196


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


One of the most effective means for conveying strong emotion is to invest some real object with one's feelings, and then to let the object carry those feelings to the reader. Notice how the gloves in this short poem by Jose Angel Araguz of Oregon carry the heavy weight of the speaker's loss.


Gloves


I made up a story for myself once,

That each glove I lost

Was sent to my father in prison


That's all it would take for him

To chart my growth without pictures

Without words or visits,


Only colors and design,

Texture; it was ok then

For skin to chafe and ash,


To imagine him

Trying on a glove,

Stretching it out


My open palm closing

And disappearing

In his fist.



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 Jose Angel Araguz. Poem reprinted from "Rattle," Vol. 13, no. 2, Winter 2007, by permission of Jose Angel Araguz. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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. 


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


12/22/2008




by Don Colburn


WILDFLOWERS


Until I heard the names in my own voice

I never saw them whole: chickweed, toothwort,

May apple, Dutchman's breeches, Indian pipe.

A list was my father's way of witnessing;

it made a flower real. And this afternoon

in the weedy meadow by the towpath,

I'm jotting odd names on a scrap of paper

for no one in particular, myself maybe

or my father. Back then I let him teach me

to look down at the ground for stars,

bells, shades of blue. He was never happier

than when we looked up accuracy's myriad names

and he wrote them out in slanted letters.

Now, over and over, like a child,

I say gill-over-the-ground, gill-

over-the-ground, gill-over-the-ground,

and in the saying see it blossom again

inside its spilled blue name.


-from As If Gravity Were a Theory (Cider Press).

12/01/2008




by Don Colburn


HOW TO SAY KWAKIUTL


Imagine a grizzly bear

with frogs in its ears and a raven

perched on its head. It helps

to have watched a great heron

at the ragged edge of the sea


before it flaps and somehow

lifts off. Or if, in the dark,

you can make out a yellow cedar

bending to the water – maybe.

Like the wind, the rain, the rings


in the treetrunk the great bear

was carved from, or a sound

you hear for the first time, so old

you know it tells more than one

story: Quawquawkeewogwah.


No use squinting at the scant

letters or sounding them out.

Listen to one who hears his name

without looking. Close your eyes.

Say what he knew by heart. 


-from As If Gravity Were a Theory (Cider Press Review)l


11/25/2008



American Life in Poetry: Column 192

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


Class, status, privilege; despite all our talk about equality, they're with us wherever we go. In this poem, Pat Mora, who grew up in a Spanish speaking home in El Paso, Texas, contrasts the lives of rich tourists with the less fortunate people who serve them. The titles of poems are often among the most important elements, and this one is loaded with implication.



Fences

Mouths full of laughter,
the turistas come to the tall hotel
with suitcases full of dollars.

Every morning my brother makes
the cool beach new for them.
With a wooden board he smooths
away all footprints.

I peek through the cactus fence
and watch the women rub oil
sweeter than honey into their arms and legs
while their children jump waves
or sip drinks from long straws,
coconut white, mango yellow.

Once my little sister
ran barefoot across the hot sand
for a taste.

My mother roared like the ocean,
"No. No. It's their beach.
It's their beach."


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) 1991 by Pat Mora, whose most recent book of poetry is "Adobe Odes," University of Arizona Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from "Communion," Arte Publico Press, University of Houston, 1991, by permission of the writer and publisher. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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. 

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

11/20/2008




American Life in Poetry: Column 191


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


Most of us love to find things, and to discover a quarter on the sidewalk can make a whole day seem brighter. In this poem, Robert Wrigley, who lives in Idaho, finds what's left of a Bible, and describes it so well that we can almost feel it in our hands.



Finding a Bible in an Abandoned Cabin


Under dust plush as a moth's wing,

the book's leather cover still darkly shown,

and everywhere else but this spot was sodden

beneath the roof's unraveling shingles.

There was that back-of-the-neck lick of chill

and then, from my index finger, the book


opened like a blasted bird. In its box

of familiar and miraculous inks,

a construction of filaments and dust,

thoroughfares of worms, and a silage

of silverfish husks: in the autumn light,

eight hundred pages of perfect wordless lace.



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 Robert Wrigley, whose most recent book of poetry is "Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems," Penguin, 2006. Poem reprinted from "The Hudson Review," Vol. LIX, no. 4, Winter, 2007, by permission of Robert Wrigley.  Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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. 

11/16/2008




by Don Melcher           

Wild Geese In December


Snow lies deep on the hardscape of winter

Out of the North comes a lonely, austere cry 

The sky opens, the woods close

And the air is full of harsh dissonance


A skein of wild geese beats its intrepid way

Strung loose in wavering V formation

The delta leader surges in headlong flight

Stragglers strain to stay the Spartan course


Across a low, bleak monochrome of sky

They scrape the ceiling of laden clouds

Strident in a breathless quest for haste

Unerring in the faith of ancient pathways


Summer’s song is on the wing

Winter’s somber ode begun

Horizons close, the heart opens

A memory of that poignant passage 


-originally appeared in Free Verse

11/12/2008


by Kathryn Gahl

MOTIONS OF THE MOTHER ANIMAL’S TONGU


The children are at it

again

boxing one another’s

ears

mocking

vying for position

hoping for a knockout

so mother

can climb into the ring,

hold up the hand

of the champion

while licking

deep cuts

in the other


-Appeared in Illuminations, August 2005

11/10/2008

by Don Colburn

THERE      

                              

Water, bone, bed, bedrock –

whatever is underneath, below what's below.

Sudden touchable quiet, shadow

of a shadow. Weather. Sadness turning

ordinary. Nameless illness coming on.

A knock at the door so gentle

it could be anything. Distance.

The just thing not said, or said too late

or said exactly and without mercy.

Wind rising. Whatever might rise.


First published in Ploughshares. Also in

Another Way to Begin (Finishing Line Press,

2006) and As If Gravity Were a Theory 

(Cider Press Review, 2006).



10/31/2008




American Life in Poetry: Column 188

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-20
06

I really like this poem by Dick Allen, partially for the way he so easily draws us in, with his easygoing, conversational style, but also for noticing what he has noticed, the overlooked accompanist there on the stage, in the shadow of the singer.



The Accompanist

I've always worried about you--the man or woman
at the piano bench,
night after night receiving only such applause
as the singer allows: a warm hand please,
for my accompanist. At concerts,
as I watch your fingers on the keys,
and how swiftly, how excellently
you turn sheet music pages,
track the singer's notes, cover the singer's flaws,
I worry about whole lifetimes,
most lifetimes
lived in the shadows of reflected fame;
but then the singer's voice dies
and there are just your last piano notes,
not resentful at all,
carrying us to the end, into those heartfelt cheers
that spring up in little patches from a thrilled audience
like sudden wildflowers bobbing in a rain
of steady clapping. And I'm on my feet, also,
clapping and cheering for the singer, yes,
but, I think, partially likewise for you
half-turned toward us, balanced on your black bench,
modest, utterly well-rehearsed,
still playing the part you've made yours.


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 Dick Allen, whose most recent book of poetry is "Present Vanishing," Sarabande Books, 2008. Poem reprinted from "North Dakota Quarterly," Vol. 74, no. 3, Summer 2007, by permission of Dick Allen.  Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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. 

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

10/28/2008

The Old Maple Tree

by Cathy Conger

 

Resplendent in flaming, fall foliage,

she stands poised

on our front lawn,

impeccably attired.

 

A callous wind plucks at her brittle sleeves,

rustles her crimson petticoats,

sets her to shivering until she

drops her fading frock

round her ankles in a heap.

 

And there the old gal stands,

like a naked mannequin,

waiting for the first snowfall,

next season’s gown.


-originally appeared in Free Verse

10/25/2008

by Jan Chronister

Blue Bowl in Late October Sun

 

On the braided rug

the glass bowl casts a luminescent shadow,

capturing time in its circle.

 

Outside on trees

single leaves sway

in a metronome rhythm,

heartbeat of death.

They fall fast to the ground;

cold gold coins dumped

from a pirate’s chest.

 

Sunlit bowl

reminds me of New Year’s Lake Superior,

mystery of blue ice

rising and folding like mountains,

jagged broken edges

sharp as glass.

 

If I fill the bowl with water

will it sing like a flute

or howl like the beast below?


-originally appeared in Mush

10/21/2008



By Russell Gardner

Summer Game

 

Remembering my mother's clothes on the line

Drying in summer sun, playing in the breeze,

And when the clothes weren't there

I'd pitch a rubber ball against the garage

Between the clothes-line posts

With rules about a strike or ball (or

If it hit the clothes-line post) where

My mythical opponent-playmate would

Send that ball off his bat into the oat-field

To the south of the lawn, over the large rosebush,

Maybe even so far that it'd hit into the grassed

Waterway that drained the northwest-lying field

Where Amish children now play when not working.

-originally appeared in Free Verse

 


10/16/2008



American Life in Poetry: Column 186

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


Every child can be seen as a miracle, and here Minnesota poet James Lenfestey captures the beautiful mystery of a daughter.


Daughter

A daughter is not a passing cloud, but permanent,
holding earth and sky together with her shadow.
She sleeps upstairs like mystery in a story,
blowing leaves down the stairs, then cold air, then warm.
We who at sixty should know everything, know nothing.
We become dull and disoriented by uncertain weather.
We kneel, palms together, before this blossoming altar.


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 James P. Lenfestey from his most recent book of poetry, "A Cartload of Scrolls," Holy Cow! Press, 2007. Reprinted by permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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. 

10/12/2008




by Sandra Lindow

October Bread

 

Within the great blue bowl,

I walk, mixing October

with wind in my hair,

light sifting chrysanthemum flower,

chokecherry, chinaberry,

black birds like raisins

tossed in the dough,

this day of leaf and leaven.

 

Some say bread's the staff of life,

but I hold to sun and air.

These last few days before the dark,

I claim what soon will be lost,

kneading the sun, kneading the air,

I bake within my skin

summer's memory, frangible gold.


-originally published in Wisconsin Poets Calendar

10/09/2008

American Life in Poetry: Column 185

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

When I was a boy, there were still a few veterans of the Spanish American War, and more of The Great War, or World War I, and now all those have died and those who served in World War II are passing from us, too. Robert Hedin, a Minnesota poet, has written a fine poem about these people.

The Old Liberators

Of all the people in the mornings at the mall,
it's the old liberators I like best,
those veterans of the Bulge, Anzio, or Monte Cassino
I see lost in Automotive or back in Home Repair,
bored among the paints and power tools.
Or the really old ones, the ones who are going fast,
who keep dozing off in the little orchards
of shade under the distant skylights.
All around, from one bright rack to another,
their wives stride big as generals,
their handbags bulging like ripe fruit.
They are almost all gone now,
and with them they are taking the flak
and fire storms, the names of the old bombing runs.
Each day a little more of their memory goes out,
darkens the way a house darkens,
its rooms quietly filling with evening,
until nothing but the wind lifts the lace curtains,
the wind bearing through the empty rooms
the rich far off scent of gardens
where just now, this morning,
light is falling on the wild philodendrons.


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) 1999 by Robert Hedin. Reprinted from "The Old Liberators: New and Selected Poems and Translations," Holy Cow! Press, 1999, by permission of Robert Hedin. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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. 

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

10/08/2008



American Life in Poetry: Column 184

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


I hope it's not just a guy thing, a delight in the trappings of work. I love this poem by
John Maloney, of Massachusetts, which gives us a close look behind the
 windshields of all those pickup trucks we see heading home from work.


After Work

They're heading home with their lights on, dust and wood glue,
yellow dome lights on their metallic long beds: 250s, 2500s--
as much overtime as you want, deadline, dotted line, dazed
through the last few hours, dried primer on their knuckles,
sawdust calf-high on their jeans, scraped boots, the rough
plumbing and electric in, way ahead of the game except for
the check, such a clutter of cans and iced-tea bottles, napkins,
coffee cups, paper plates on the front seat floor with cords
and saws, tired above the eyes, back of the beyond, thirsty.
There's a parade of them through the two-lane highways,
proudest on their way home, the first turn out of the jobsite,
the first song with the belt off, pure breath of being alone
for now, for now the insight of a full and answerable man.
No one can take away the contentment of the first few miles
and they know they can't describe it, the black and purple sky.


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 John Maloney, whose most recent
book of poetry is "Proposal," Zoland Books, 1999. Poem reprinted from 
AGNI online, 2/2007, by permission of John Maloney. Introduction 
copyright (c) 2008 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. 

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

9/28/2008



by Kathleen Ernst

Handwork

 

Scraps of tatting, yellowed with age.

She found time a burden, I think,

the woman who wound thread tight

around her slender fingers;

that childless housewife cradling her shuttle,

silver and small, in her other hand.

As lonely hours knotted, day after day,

she twisted her dreams into neat loops of lace.

 

Hand-knit mittens, Norwegian styling.

She was homesick, I think,

the woman who knit these intricate patterns,

one on the back of hand, one on the palm;

that immigrant clicking her double-point needles,

minding the thumb gusset, minding the fit.

As she hid from the babble of English words

she summoned her own home with memories and wool.

 

Baby blanket, sewn from a flour sack.

She was worried, I think,

the pioneer woman who picked up her needle

with roughened fingers, and leaned toward the fire;

that gaunt young mother, threading her needle,

straining to see with smoke-squint eyes.

As the white wolves of winter loped toward her soddy

she stitched her fear into faded cloth.

 

Tatted and knitted, quilted and sewn.

It was handwork, I think, that kept them going

over vast ocean, prairie, and plain –

basting together scraps of their dreams,

     knitting new lives, knotting new hopes.

Women unknowingly seamed together,

finding comfort in cadence and color,

finding solace, each on her own. 


-originally appeared in Fox Cry Review, September, 2008


9/27/2008



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

Perhaps you made paper leaves when you were in grade school.  I did.  But are our memories as richly detailed as these by Washington, D.C. poet, Judith Harris?


Gathering Leaves in Grade School

They were smooth ovals,
and some the shade of potatoes--
some had been moth-eaten
or spotted, the maples
were starched, and crackled
like campfire.

We put them under tracing paper
and rubbed our crayons
over them, X-raying
the spread of their bones
and black, veined catacombs.

We colored them green and brown
and orange, and
cut them out along the edges,
labeling them deciduous
or evergreen.

All day, in the stuffy air of the classroom,
with its cockeyed globe,
and nautical maps of ocean floors,
I watched those leaves

lost in their own worlds
flap on the pins of the bulletin boards:
without branches or roots,
or even a sky to hold on to.


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 Judith Harris, whose most recent collection of poems is "The Bad Secret," Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Reprinted from "The Literary Review," Fall 2008, by permission of Judith Harris. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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. 

9/11/2008




American Life in Poetry: Column 181

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

Stuart Kestenbaum, the author of this week's poem, lost his brother Howard in the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. We thought it appropriate to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001, by sharing this poem. The poet is the director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine.


Prayer for the Dead


The light snow started late last night and continued
all night long while I slept and could hear it occasionally
enter my sleep, where I dreamed my brother
was alive again and possessing the beauty of youth, aware
that he would be leaving again shortly and that is the lesson
of the snow falling and of the seeds of death that are in everything
that is born: we are here for a moment
of a story that is longer than all of us and few of us
remember, the wind is blowing out of someplace
we don't know, and each moment contains rhythms
within rhythms, and if you discover some old piece
of your own writing, or an old photograph,
you may not remember that it was you and even if it was once you,
it's not you now, not this moment that the synapses fire
and your hands move to cover your face in a gesture
of grief and remembrance.


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 Stuart Kestenbaum. Reprinted from "Prayers & Run-on Sentences," Deerbook Editions, 2007, by permission of Stuart Kestenbaum. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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. ******************************

9/04/2008



American Life in Poetry: Column 180

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


What's in a name? All of us have thought at one time or another about our names, perhaps asking why they were given to us, or finding meanings within them. Here Emmett Tenorio Melendez, an eleven-year-old poet from San Antonio, Texas, proudly presents us with his name and its meaning.

My name came from. . .

My name came from my great-great-great-grandfather.
He was an Indian from the Choctaw tribe.
His name was Dark Ant.
When he went to get a job out in a city
he changed it to Emmett.
And his whole name was Emmett Perez Tenorio.
And my name means: Ant; Strong; Carry twice
its size.



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) 2000
by Emmett Tenorio Melendez. Reprinted from "Salting The Ocean:
100 Poems By Young Poets," Greenwillow Books, 2000, by
permission of the editor. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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.

8/21/2008



American Life in Poetry: Column 178

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

We mammals are ferociously protective of our young, and we all know
not to wander in between a sow bear and her cubs. Here Minnesota poet
Gary Dop, without a moment's hesitation, throws himself into the
water to save a frightened child.


Father, Child, Water

I lift your body to the boat
before you drown or choke or slip too far


beneath. I didn't think--just jumped, just did
what I did like the physics

that flung you in. My hands clutch under
year-old arms, between your life


jacket and your bobbing frame, pushing you,
like a fountain cherub, up and out.

I'm fooled by the warmth pulsing from
the gash on my thigh, sliced wide and clean

by an errant screw on the stern.
No pain. My legs kick out blood below.

My arms strain
against our deaths to hold you up

as I lift you, crying, reaching, to the boat.

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) 2008 by Gary Dop.
Reprinted from "New Letters", Vol. 74, No. 3, Spring 2008, by
permission of Gary Dop. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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.
******************************

8/14/2008




American Life in Poetry: Column 177

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

Kristen Tracy is a poet from San Francisco who here
captures a moment at a zoo. It's the falling rain, don't
you think, that makes the experience of observing the
animals seem so perfectly truthful and vivid?



Rain at the Zoo

A giraffe presented its head to me, tilting it
sideways, reaching out its long gray tongue.
I gave it my wheat cracker while small drops
of rain pounded us both. Lightning cracked open
the sky. Zebras zipped across the field.
It was springtime in Michigan. I watched
the giraffe shuffle itself backwards, toward
the herd, its bone- and rust-colored fur beading
with water. The entire mix of animals stood
away from the trees. A lone emu shook
its round body hard and squawked. It ran
along the fence line, jerking open its wings.
Perhaps it was trying to shake away the burden
of water or indulging an urge to fly. I can't know.
I have no idea what about their lives these animals
love or abhor. They are captured or born here for us,
and we come. It's true. This is my favorite field.


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) Kristen Tracy, whose most recent
teen novel is "Crimes of the Sarahs," Simon & Schuster,
2008. Poem reprinted from AGNI online, 9/2007, by permission
of Kristen Tracy. Introduction copyright (c) 2008 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.

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