American Life in Poetry: Column 161
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
I may be a little sappy, but I think that almost everyone is
doing the best he or she can, despite all sorts of obstacles.
This poem by Jonathan Holden introduces us to a young car
salesman, who is trying hard, perhaps too hard. Holden is the
past poet laureate of Kansas and poet in residence at Kansas
State University in Manhattan.
Day after day, along with his placid
automobiles, that well-groomed
sallow young man had been waiting for
me, as in the cheerful, unchanging
weather of a billboard--pacing
the tiles, patting his tie, knotting, un-
knotting the facade of his smile
while staring out the window.
He was so bad at the job
he reminded me of myself
the summer I failed
at selling Time and Life in New Jersey.
Even though I was a boy
I could feel someone else's voice
crawl out of my mouth,
spoiling every word,
like this cowed, polite kid in his tie
and badge that said Greg,
saying Ma'am to my wife, calling
me Sir, retailing the air with such piety
I had to find anything out the window.
Maybe the rain. It was gray
and as honestly wet as ever. Something
we could both believe.
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) 1985
by Jonathan Holden, whose most recent book of poetry is
"Knowing: New & Selected Poems," University of Arkansas Press,
2000. Reprinted from "The Names of the Rapids," The University
of Massachusetts Press, 1985, by permission of the author.
First printed in "Black Warrior Review." 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