12/29/2009




American Life in Poetry: Column 249

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

One of the wonderful things about small children is the way in which they cause us to explain the world. “What’s that?” they ask, and we have to come up with an answer. Here Christine Stewart-Nunez, who lives and teaches in South Dakota, tries to teach her son a new word only to hear it come back transformed. 
Convergence 
Through the bedroom window
a February sunrise, fog suspended
between pines. Intricate crystals—
hoarfrost lace on a cherry tree.
My son calls out, awake. We sway,
blanket-wrapped, his head nuzzling
my neck. Hoarfrost, tree—I point,
shaping each word. Favorable
conditions: a toddler’s brain, hard
data-mining, a system’s approach.
Hoar, he hears. His hand reaches
to the wallpaper lion. Phenomena
converge: warmth, humidity,
temperature’s sudden plunge;
a child’s brain, objects, sound.
Eyes widening, he opens his mouth
and roars.
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 ©2009 by Christine Stewart-Nunez, whose most recent book of poems is Postcard on Parchment, ABZ Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from the Briar Cliff Review, 2009, by permission of Christine Stewart-Nunez and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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12/21/2009




American Life in Poetry: Column 248

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Many if not all of us have had the pleasure of watching choruses of young people sing. It’s an experience rich with affirmation, it seems to me. Here is a lovely poem by Tim Nolan, an attorney in Minneapolis.

At the Choral Concert 
The high school kids are so beautiful
in their lavender blouses and crisp white shirts.

They open their mouths to sing with that
far-off stare they had looking out from the crib.

Their voices lift up from the marble bed
of the high altar to the blue endless ceiling

of heaven as depicted in the cloudy dome—
and we—as the parents—crane our necks

to see our children and what is above us—
and ahead of us—until the end when we

are invited up to sing with them—sopranos
and altos—tenors and basses—to sing the great

Hallelujah Chorus—and I’m standing with the other
stunned and gray fathers—holding our sheet music—

searching for our parts—and we realize—
our voices are surprisingly rich—experienced—

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth—
and how do we all know to come in

at exactly the right moment?—Forever and ever—
and how can it not seem that we shall reign

forever and ever—in one voice with our beautiful
children—looking out into all those lights.

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 ©2008 by Tim Nolan from his most recent book, The Sound of It, New Rivers Press, 2008, by permission of the author and publisher. First printed in Ploughshares, Winter 2007-2008. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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12/13/2009








by Andrea Potos
CROCHETING THE SHAWL

Because I don’t know the finishing stitch
for this shawl, I end up at the chain bookstore
under florescent lights, ploughing through
Crocheter’s Companion, Easy to Make Crochet.
What I want is my grandmother
sitting beside me on her Duncan Fyfe sofa.
I want her alive, calling me 
Koukla, her needleworked pillows 
nested on the cushions,
in air infused with the scents from the open doorway
of her kitchen--olive oil, cinnamon, 
oregano, the promise
of abundance.
I need to see her hands once more, age-spotted
and nimble, the fluid motion of her fingers
as natural as singing 
or breathing, her voice telling me
how I can
complete this piece without her.

12/07/2009






American Life in Poetry: Column 246

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Childhood is too precious a part of life to lose before we have to, but our popular culture all too often yanks our little people out of their innocence. Here is a poem by Trish Crapo, of Leyden, Massachusetts, that captures a moment of that innocence.

Back Then 
Out in the yard, my sister and I
tore thread from century plants
to braid into bracelets, ate
chalky green bananas,
threw coconuts onto the sidewalk
to crack their hard, hairy skulls.

The world had begun to happen,
but not time. We would live
forever, sunburnt and pricker-stuck,
our promises written in blood. Not yet

would men or illness distinguish us,
our thoughts cleave us in two.
If she squeezed sour calamondins
into a potion, I drank it. When I jumped
from the fig tree, she jumped.

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 ©2004 by Trish Crapo and reprinted from Walking Through Paradise Backwards, Slate Roof Press, 2004, by permission of Trish Crapo and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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11/30/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 245

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

I love the way the following poem by Susie Patlove opens, with the little rooster trying to "be what he feels he must be." This poet lives in Massachusetts, in a community called Windy Hill, which must be a very good place for chickens, too.

Poor Patriarch

The rooster pushes his head
high among the hens, trying to be
what he feels he must be, here
in the confines of domesticity.
Before the tall legs of my presence,
he bristles and shakes his ruby comb.

Little man, I want to say
the hens know who they are.
I want to ease his mistaken burden,
want him to crow with the plain
ecstasy of morning light as it
finds its winter way above the woods.

Poor outnumbered fellow,
how did he come to believe
that on his plumed shoulders
lay the safety of an entire flock?
I run my hand down the rippled
brindle of his back, urge him to relax,
drink in the female pleasures
that surround him, of egg laying,
of settling warm-breasted in the nest
of this brief and feathered time.

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 ©2007 by Susie Patlove from Quickening, Slate Roof Press, 2007. Reprinted by permission of Susie Patlove and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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11/23/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 244

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

Love predated the invention of language, but love poetry got its start as soon as we had words through which to express our feelings. Here’s a lovely example of a contemporary poem of love and longing by George Bilgere, who lives in Ohio.

Night Flight

I am doing laps at night, alone
In the indoor pool. Outside
It is snowing, but I am warm
And weightless, suspended and out
Of time like a fly in amber.

She is thousands of miles
From here, and miles above me,
Ghosting the stratosphere,
Heading from New York to London.
Though it is late, even
At that height, I know her light
Is on, her window a square
Of gold as she reads mysteries
Above the Atlantic. I watch

The line of black tile on the pool’s
Floor, leading me down the lane.
If she looks down by moonlight,
Under a clear sky, she will see
Black water. She will see me
Swimming distantly, moving far
From shore, suspended with her
In flight through the wide gulf
As we swim toward land together.

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 ©2009 by George Bilgere, whose most recent book of poems is Haywire, Utah State University Press, 2006. Reprinted by permission of George Bilgere. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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11/17/2009


American Life in Poetry: Column 243

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

Lots of contemporary poems are anecdotal, a brief narration of some event, and what can make them rise above anecdote is when they manage to convey significance, often as the poem closes. Here is an example of one like that, by Marie Sheppard Williams, who lives in Minneapolis.

Everybody

I stood at a bus corner
one afternoon, waiting
for the #2. An old
guy stood waiting too.
I stared at him. He
caught my stare, grinned,
gap-toothed. Will you
sign my coat? he said.
Held out a pen. He wore
a dirty canvas coat that
had signatures all over
it, hundreds, maybe
thousands.
I’m trying
to get everybody, he
said.
I signed. On a
little space on a pocket.
Sometimes I remember:
I am one of everybody.

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 ©2006 by Marie Sheppard Williams. Reprinted from the California Review, Volume 32, no. 4, by permission of Marie Sheppard Williams and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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11/11/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 242

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

There are lots of poems in which a poet expresses belated appreciation for a parent, and if you don’t know Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays,” you ought to look it up sometime. In this lovely sonnet, Kathy Mangan, of Maryland, contributes to that respected tradition.

The Whistle

You could whistle me home from anywhere
in the neighborhood; avenues away,
I’d pick out your clear, alternating pair
of notes, the signal to quit my child’s play
and run back to our house for supper,
or a Saturday trip to the hardware store.
Unthrottled, wavering in the upper
reaches, your trilled summons traveled farther
than our few blocks. I’ve learned too, how your heart’s
radius extends, though its beat
has stopped. Still, some days a sudden fear darts
through me, whether it’s my own city street
I hurry across, or at a corner in an unknown
town: the high, vacant air arrests me—where’s home?

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 ©1995 by Kathy Mangan, from her most recent book of poems, Above the Tree Line, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1995. Reprinted by permission of Kathy Mangan and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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11/08/2009



by Kelly Madigan Erlandson

Before She Decides


They are in a dark plum thicket

and she is too far above the ground,

can feel the lift and fall of walking

but is not walking. Beneath her

are the shoulders of a boy

who is willing to carry her for years

but he is unsteady as a shirt

unbuttoned in the wind and she

is like a feather on the surface

of a river with round stones

in its bed. She already knows

he will fall and because she is above

him she will fall further

but that doesn’t matter yet, the night

held up all around her

like great bolts of cloth for her choosing.

-originally appeared in Gumball Poetry

11/02/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 241

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

I love poems in which the central metaphors are fresh and original, and here’s a marvelous, coiny description of autumn by Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck, who lives in Illinois.

Like Coins, November

We drove past late fall fields as flat and cold
as sheets of tin and, in the distance, trees

were tossed like coins against the sky. Stunned gold
and bronze, oaks, maples stood in twos and threes:

some copper bright, a few dull brown and, now
and then, the shock of one so steeled with frost

it glittered like a dime. The autumn boughs
and blackened branches wore a somber gloss

that whispered tails to me, not heads. I read
memorial columns in their trunks; their leaves

spelled UNUM, cent; and yours, the only head . . .
in penny profile, Lincoln-like (one sleeve,

one eye) but even it was turning tails
as russet leaves lay spent across the trails.

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 ©2008 by Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck. Reprinted from The Spoon River Poetry Review, Vol. XXXIII, no. 1, 2008, by permission of Elizabeth Klise von Zerneck and the publisher. 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.

10/19/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 239

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

It’s likely that if you found the original handwritten manuscript of T. S. Eliot’s groundbreaking poem, “The Waste Land,” you wouldn’t be able to trade it for a candy bar at the Quick Shop on your corner. Here’s a poem by David Lee Garrison of Ohio about how unsuccessfully classical music fits into a subway.


Bach in the DC Subway

As an experiment,
The Washington Post
asked a concert violinist—
wearing jeans, tennis shoes,
and a baseball cap—
to stand near a trash can
at rush hour in the subway
and play Bach
on a Stradivarius.
Partita No. 2 in D Minor
called out to commuters
like an ocean to waves,
sang to the station
about why we should bother
to live.

A thousand people
streamed by. Seven of them
paused for a minute or so
and thirty-two dollars floated
into the open violin case.
A café hostess who drifted
over to the open door
each time she was free
said later that Bach
gave her peace,
and all the children,
all of them,
waded into the music
as if it were water,
listening until they had to be
rescued by parents
who had somewhere else to go.

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 ©2008 by David Lee Garrison, whose most recent book of poems is Sweeping the Cemetery: New and Selected Poems, Browser Books Publishing, 2007. Poem reprinted from Rattle, Vol. 14, No. 2, Winter 2008, by permission of David Lee Garrison and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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10/12/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 238

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

Though some teacher may have made you think that all poetry is deadly serious, chock full of coded meanings and obscure symbols, poems, like other works of art, can be delightfully playful. Here Bruce Guernsey, who divides his time between Illinois and Maine, plays with a common yam.


Yam

The potato that ate all its carrots,
can see in the dark like a mole,

its eyes the scars
from centuries of shovels, tines.

May spelled backwards
because it hates the light,

pawing its way, paddling along,
there in the catacombs.

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 ©2008 by Bruce Guernsey. Reprinted from New England Primer by Bruce Guernsey, Cherry Grove Collections, 2008, by permission of Bruce Guernsey and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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9/28/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 236

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

Cecilia Woloch teaches in California, and when she’s not with her students she’s off to the Carpathian Mountains of Poland, to help with the farm work. But somehow she resisted her wanderlust just long enough to make this telling snapshot of her father at work.

The Pick

I watched him swinging the pick in the sun,
breaking the concrete steps into chunks of rock,
and the rocks into dust,
and the dust into earth again.
I must have sat for a very long time on the split rail fence,
just watching him.
My father’s body glistened with sweat,
his arms flew like dark wings over his head.
He was turning the backyard into terraces,
breaking the hill into two flat plains.
I took for granted the power of him,
though it frightened me, too.
I watched as he swung the pick into the air
and brought it down hard
and changed the shape of the world,
and changed the shape of the world again.


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 When She Named Fire, ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009, by permission of Cecilia Woloch and the publisher. The poem first appeared in Sacrifice by Cecilia Woloch, Tebot Bach, 1997. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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9/22/2009




by Christine Rhein


Orange Days


In the cobalt bowl, oranges gleam: still life

in my kitchen where life is never still.

Even on this quiet afternoon, house to myself,

duties tug at my sleeve, but I sit here scribbling

about indifferent oranges, blue glass neither nest

nor cage. Truth comes down to attitude.

And today I resent keeping the fruit bowl filled,

the time spent choosing in the store, judging

each piece against some noble ideal. So what

if oranges are sweet and good for you?

I’m tired of repeated segments, of partitioning

myself, of being good.

Neruda asked, How do the oranges divide up

sunlight in the orange tree?

Oranges grow round without seeking

admiration, fretting over purpose,

the verb to be their heft, their ample language,

while my alphabet—O for Orange

leads from one meaning to another,

like orange rind turned to candy.

Like MFK Fisher roasting tangerine crescents

atop a radiator, the scent filling her room

as she waited for the delicate crunch, rush

of juice, words to describe her pleasure:

subtle and voluptuous and quite inexplicable…


-originally appeared in The MacGuffin

9/21/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 235

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


I tell my writing students that their most important task is to pay attention to what’s going on around them. God is in the details, as we say. Here David Bottoms, the Poet Laureate of Georgia, tells us a great deal about his father by showing us just one of his hands.


My Father’s Left Hand

Sometimes my old man’s hand flutters over his knee, flaps
in crazy circles, and falls back to his leg.

Sometimes it leans for an hour on that bony ledge.

And sometimes when my old man tries to speak, his hand waggles
in the air, chasing a word, then perches again

on the bar of his walker or the arm of a chair.

Sometimes when evening closes down his window and rain
blackens into ice on the sill, it trembles like a sparrow in a storm.

Then full dark falls, and it trembles less, and less, until it’s still.


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 ©2008 by David Bottoms, whose most recent book of poems is Waltzing Through the Endtime, Copper Canyon Press, 2004. Poem reprinted from Alaska Quarterly Review, Vol. 25, No. 3 & 4, Fall & Winter 2008, by permission of David Bottoms and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2009 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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9/17/2009




by Shoshauna Shy

THE ACCENT

It moves my blood like butter moves
In a Catoosa County skillet
Taking me downriver on
The detours of his A's,
His R's and D's as cushioning
As a swallow of Bay Rum, his humming
Soft as suede I want to smooth
Between my hands.
Let my tongue scoop the hollows
Where his tossed-out T's have fallen,
Wander the ravines where his G's sit
Forgotten, press the palate, lick the gap
Where Dixie goes a-whistling, taste
The place where these sounds come from --
Let me taste where they were born.
- Honorable Mention in Milwaukee Public Library's "Love
Letters Lost & Found Contest," published on a broadside

9/07/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 233

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


Diane Glancy is one of our country's Native American poets, and I recently judged her latest book, Asylum in the Grasslands, the winner of a regional competition. Here is a good example of her clear and steady writing.


Indian Summer

There’s a farm auction up the road.
Wind has its bid in for the leaves.
Already bugs flurry the headlights
between cornfields at night.
If this world were permanent,
I could dance full as the squaw dress
on the clothesline.
I would not see winter
in the square of white yard-light on the wall.
But something tugs at me.
The world is at a loss and I am part of it
migrating daily.
Everything is up for grabs
like a box of farm tools broken open.
I hear the spirits often in the garden
and along the shore of corn.
I know this place is not mine.
I hear them up the road again.
This world is a horizon, an open sea.
Behind the house, the white iceberg of the barn.


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. Copyright ©2007 by Diane Glancy, whose novel The Reason For Crows, is forthcoming from State University of New York Press, 2009. Poem reprinted from Asylum in the Grasslands, University of Arizona Press, 2007, by permission of Diane Glancy. Introduction copyright ©2009 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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8/31/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 232

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


I’ve built many wren houses since my wife and I moved to the country 25 years ago. It’s a good thing to do in the winter. At one point I had so many extra that in the spring I set up at a local farmers’ market and sold them for five dollars apiece. I say all this to assert that I am an authority at listening to the so small voices that Thomas R. Smith captures in this poem. Smith lives in Wisconsin.


Baby Wrens’ Voices

I am a student of wrens.
When the mother bird returns
to her brood, beak squirming
with winged breakfast, a shrill
clamor rises like jingling
from tiny, high-pitched bells.
Who’d have guessed such a small
house contained so many voices?
The sound they make is the pure sound
of life’s hunger. Who hangs our house
in the world’s branches, and listens
when we sing from our hunger?
Because I love best those songs
that shake the house of the singer,
I am a student of wrens.

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 ©2005 by Thomas R. Smith, whose most recent book of poetry is Waking Before Dawn, Red Dragonfly Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from the chapbook Kinnickinnic, Parallel Press, 2008, by permission of Thomas R. Smith and the publisher. The poem first appeared in There is No Other Way to Speak , the 2005 "winter book" of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, ed., Bill Holm. Introduction copyright © 2009 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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8/24/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 231

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


This column originates on the campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and at the beginning of each semester, we see parents helping their children move into their dorm rooms and apartments and looking a little shaken by the process. This wonderful poem by
Sue Ellen Thompson of Maryland captures not only a moment like that, but a mother’s feelings as well.



Helping My Daughter Move into Her First Apartment

This is all I am to her now:
a pair of legs in running shoes,

two arms strung with braided wire.
She heaves a carton sagging with CDs

at me and I accept it gladly, lifting
with my legs, not bending over,

raising each foot high enough
to clear the step. Fortunate to be

of any use to her at all,
I wrestle, stooped and single-handed,

with her mattress in the stairwell,
saying nothing as it pins me,

sweating, to the wall. Vacuum cleaner,
spiny cactus, five-pound sacks

of rice and lentils slumped
against my heart: up one flight

of stairs and then another,
down again with nothing in my arms


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 ©2006 by Sue Ellen Thompson, and reprinted from "When She Named Fire," ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009, and reprinted by permission of the poet and publisher. First printed in "The Golden Hour," Sue Ellen Thompson, Autumn House Press, 2006. Introduction copyright ©2009 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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8/17/2009



American Life in Poetry: Column 230

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


It’s been sixty-odd years since I was in the elementary grades, but I clearly remember those first school days in early autumn, when summer was suddenly over and we were all perched in our little desks facing into the future. Here Ron Koertge of California gives us a glimpse of a day like that.

First Grade

Until then, every forest
had wolves in it, we thought
it would be fun to wear snowshoes
all the time, and we could talk to water.

So why is this woman with the gray
breath calling out names and pointing
to the little desks we will occupy
for 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 ©2008 by Ron Koertge, whose most recent book of poems is "Fever," Red Hen Press, 2006. Reprinted by permission of Ron Koertge. Introduction copyright ©2009 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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8/13/2009




by Andrea Potos


FEELING LIKE A BUDDHIST

WHILE WATCHING THE CABLE TV PUNDIT


Same old

ash and smoke seething

from his mouth, his ears,

same old rock shards flung

at the opposing wing.


This time, my own volcanic

inclinations

don’t bubble or stir.

I smell no sulfur in the air.


For this moment,

such obsidian calm.