American Life in Poetry: Column 168


So often, reading a poem can in itself feel like a thing
overheard. Here, Mary-Sherman Willis
of Virginia describes
the feeling of being stilled
by conversation, in this case barely
and nearly indecipherable.

The Laughter of Women

From over the wall I could hear the laughter of women
in a foreign tongue, in the sun-rinsed air of the city.
They sat (so I thought) perfumed in their hats and their silks,

in chairs on the grass amid flowers glowing and swaying.
One spoke and the others rang like bells, oh so witty,
like bells till the sound filled up the garden and lifted

like bubbles spilling over the bricks that enclosed them,
their happiness holding them, even if just for the moment.
Although I did not understand a word they were saying,

their sound surrounded me, fell on my shoulders and hair,
and burst on my cheeks like kisses, and continued to fall,
holding me there where I stood on the sidewalk listening.

As I could not move, I had to hear them grow silent,
and adjust myself to the clouds and the cooling air.
The mumble of thunder rumbled out of the wall
and the smacking of drops as the rain fell everywhere.

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 Mary-Sherman Willis. Reprinted from
"The Hudson Review," Vol. LX, no. 3, (Autumn 2007),
by permission of Mary-Sherman Willis. 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.