12/12/2010

By Don Colburn: How to Say Kwakiutl



 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, 2006).

12/11/2010



American Life in Poetry: Column 287

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

I love to sit outside and be very still until some little creature appears and begins to go about its business, and here is another poet, Robert Gibb, of Pennsylvania, doing just the same thing.

For the Chipmunk in My Yard

I think he knows I’m alive, having come down
The three steps of the back porch
And given me a good once over. All afternoon
He’s been moving back and forth,
Gathering odd bits of walnut shells and twigs,
While all about him the great fields tumble
To the blades of the thresher. He’s lucky
To be where he is, wild with all that happens.
He’s lucky he’s not one of the shadows
Living in the blond heart of the wheat.
This autumn when trees bolt, dark with the fires
Of starlight, he’ll curl among their roots,
Wanting nothing but the slow burn of matter
On which he fastens like a small, brown flame.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. From What the Heart Can Bear by Robert Gibb. Poem copyright ©2009 by Robert Gibb. Reprinted by permission of the author and Autumn House Press. Introduction copyright ©2010 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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12/10/2010



by John L. Campbell

INSOMNIA


Chocolate coated vowels in four letter verbs
traipse across my bedroom ceiling, Gaelic
conjugations, St. Michael with muddy feet.
With my eyes closed it’s so quiet I hear
my soft slippers whispering to sandals
under my bed, KEENS itching for a walk.
They swap the smell of their souls, tongues
flap behind loose laced lips, tread rugs,
carpet, and ceramic tile where their steps
leave tracks on abrasive roads, trace
rubber and leather, one by man, one by God.
Y does a melt-down miffed at not being
voted the sixth vowel, tracking in sticky
dark chocolate,  words reading, “Get up,
grab a pencil n’ pad, jot this down.”
-First published in Verse Wisconsin  Issue # 104 October 2010

12/02/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 285


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


In our busy times, the briefest pause to express a little interest in the natural world is praiseworthy. Most of us spend our time thinking about other people, and scarcely any time thinking about other creatures. I recently co-edited an anthology of poems about birds, and we looked through lots of books and magazines, but here is a fine poem we missed, byTara Bray, who lives in Richmond, Virginia.

Once
 
I climbed the roll of hay to watch the heron


in the pond. He waded a few steps out,

then back, thrusting his beak under water,

pulling it up empty, but only once.

Later I walked the roads for miles, certain

he’d be there when I returned. How is it for him,

day after day, his brittle legs rising

from warm green scum, his graceful neck curled,

damp in the bright heat? It’s a dull world.

Every day, the same roads, the sky,

the dust, the barn caving into itself,

the tin roof twisted and scattered in the yard.

Again, the bank covered with oxeye daisy

that turns to spiderwort, to chicory,

and at last to goldenrod. Each year, the birds—

thick in the air and darting in wild numbers—

grow quiet, the grasses thin, the light leaves

earlier each day. The heron stood

stone-still on my spot when I returned.

And then, his wings burst open, lifting the steel-

blue rhythm of his body into flight.

I touched the warm hay. Hoping for a trace

of his wild smell, I cupped my hands over

my face: nothing but the heat of fields

and skin. It wasn’t long before the world

began to breathe the beat of ordinary hours,

stretching out again beneath the sky.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2006 by Tara Bray, and reprinted from her most recent book of poems, Mistaken for Song, Persea Books, Inc., 2009, by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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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8/30/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 284


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


I’d guess there are lots of people, like me, who sometimes visit places which in memory are hallowed but which, through time, have been changed irreparably. It is a painful experience but it underlines life. Here Carl Little, who lives in Maine, returns to a place like that.



The Clearing


The sunbox lies in pieces, 

its strips of aluminum foil 

flaking away to the wind, 

tanning platform broken up 

for kindling. Planted grass 

sprouts where the path 
once 
sharply turned to the left 

circumventing underbrush,

there the man (a boy then)

stumbled on beauty’s wrath: 

pale sisters yelling him off, 

scrambling for clothes to cover.




All has been cleared, thick 

cat briar raked into piles 

and set ablaze, invincible 
 
ailanthus stacked for dump. 

All’s clear and calm save 

his childhood rushing head- 

long through tearing thickets, 

and the sisters, barely glimpsed 

against reflective flashing, 
laughing after him, then

lying back to catch 

all the sullen autumn sun they can.
 
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2006 by Carl Little and reprinted from Ocean Drinker: New and Selected Poems, Deerbrook Editions, 2006, by permission of Carl Little and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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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8/02/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 280
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Marilyn Kallet lives and teaches in Tennessee. Over the years I have read many poems about fireflies, but of all of them hers seems to offer the most and dearest peace.
 
Fireflies
In the dry summer field at nightfall,
fireflies rise like sparks.
Imagine the presence of ghosts
flickering, the ghosts of young friends,
your father nearest in the distance.
This time they carry no sorrow,
no remorse, their presence is so light.
Childhood comes to you,
memories of your street in lamplight,
holding those last moments before bed,
capturing lightning-bugs,
with a blossom of the hand
letting them go. Lightness returns,
an airy motion over the ground
you remember from Ring Around the Rosie.
If you stay, the fireflies become fireflies
again, not part of your stories,
as unaware of you as sleep, being
beautiful and quiet all around you.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Marilyn Kallet, from her most recent book of poetry, Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Black Widow Press, 2009. Reprinted by permission of Marilyn Kallet. 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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7/20/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 278
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Peter Everwine is a California poet whose work I have admired for almost as long as I have been writing. Here he beautifully captures a quiet moment of reflection.
 
Rain
Toward evening, as the light failed
and the pear tree at my window darkened,
I put down my book and stood at the open door,
the first raindrops gusting in the eaves,
a smell of wet clay in the wind.
Sixty years ago, lying beside my father,
half asleep, on a bed of pine boughs as rain
drummed against our tent, I heard
for the first time a loon’s sudden wail
drifting across that remote lake—
a loneliness like no other,
though what I heard as inconsolable
may have been only the sound of something
untamed and nameless
singing itself to the wilderness around it
and to us until we slept. And thinking of my father
and of good companions gone
into oblivion, I heard the steady sound of rain
and the soft lapping of water, and did not know
whether it was grief or joy or something other
that surged against my heart
and held me listening there so long and late. 
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Peter Everwine, whose most recent book of poems is From the Meadow: Selected and New Poems, Pitt Poetry Series, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. Reprinted from Ploughshares, Vol. 34, no. 1, Spring 2008, by permission of Peter Everwine and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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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6/28/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 275
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
I recognize the couple who are introduced in this poem by Patricia Frolander, of Sundance, Wyoming, and perhaps you’ll recognize them, too.
 
Denial 
He called it “his ranch,”
yet each winter day found her beside him
feeding hay to hungry cows.
In summer heat
you would find her in the hayfield—
cutting, raking, baling, stacking.
In between she kept the books,
cooked, cleaned
laundered, fed bum lambs.
Garden rows straight,
canned jars of food
lined cellar walls.
Then she died.
I asked him how he would manage.
“Just like I always have,” he said.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Patricia Frolander, and reprinted from her most recent book of poems, Grassland Genealogy, Finishing Line Press, 2009, by permission of Pat Frolander and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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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6/21/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 274
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Alicia Suskin Ostriker is one of our country’s finest poets. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey. I thought that today you might like to have us offer you a poem full of blessings.
 
The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog 
To be blessed
said the old woman
is to live and work
so hard
God’s love
washes right through you
like milk through a cow
To be blessed
said the dark red tulip
is to knock their eyes out
with the slug of lust
implied by
your up-ended skirt
To be blessed
said the dog
is to have a pinch
of God
inside you
and all the other
dogs can smell it

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog” from The Book of Seventy, by Alicia Suskin Ostriker, © 2009. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. Introduction copyright ©2010 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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5/31/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 271
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Barnyard chickens, which are little more than reptiles with feathers, can be counted on to kill those among them who are malformed or diseased, but we humans, advanced animals that we think we are, are far more likely to just turn away from people who bear the scars of misfortune. Here’s a poem by Ned Balbo, who lives and teaches in Maryland.
 
Fire Victim
Once, boarding the train to New York City,
The aisle crowded and all seats filled, I glimpsed
An open space—more pushing, stuck in place—
And then saw why: a man, face peeled away,
Sewn back in haste, skin grafts that smeared like wax
Spattered and frozen, one eye flesh-filled, smooth,
One cold eye toward the window. Cramped, shoved hard,
I, too, passed up the seat, the place, and fought on
Through to the next car, and the next, but now
I wonder why the fire that could have killed him
Spared him, burns scarred over; if a life
Is what he calls this space through which he moves,
Dark space we dared not enter, and what fire
Burns in him when he sees us move away.
  
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2005 by Ned Balbo, whose most recent book of poetry is Something Must Happen, Finishing Line Press, 2009. Poem reprinted from Lives of the Sleepers, University of Notre Dame Press, 2005, by permission of Ned Balbo and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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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5/30/2010


By Dan Veach
Return to Cinder

Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
  —Gerard Manley Hopkins


Mail strike, and the Italian Post
is buried like Pompeii.
On the evening news, dispirited
Post officers kick listlessly
through the mountains and foothills
of the undelivered. 
Will it be cheaper, they wonder
to shred it or burn it?

All those delicate air mail envelopes
blue as Italian sky, their crinkly onion skin
desiccated and ethereal, last stop
between matter and spirit.

Failed reachings-out of business and delight—
trapeze artists inches short
of an outstretched hand.

And Love, of course: its labors
lost for good. Struck since with sober
second thoughts, the cowardice
of common sense. Vesuvius slowly
losing steam. The heart a volcanic rock.

The Dead Letter Office 
takes things philosophically.
They shrug. The situation is not dire. 
In their postal manual, Heraclitus says 
that all creation bears the same return address.
Now or in a thousand years, who cares?
Send it back to the Fire.  

-from Southern Poetry Review, Vol. 47, No. 1

4/29/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 266
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
The great American poet William Carlos Williams taught us that if a poem can capture a moment in life, and bathe it in the light of the poet’s close attention, and make it feel fresh and new, that’s enough, that’s adequate, that’s good. Here is a poem like that by Rachel Contreni Flynn, who lives in Illinois.
 
The Yellow Bowl
If light pours like water
into the kitchen where I sway
with my tired children,

if the rug beneath us
is woven with tough flowers,
and the yellow bowl on the table

rests with the sweet heft
of fruit, the sun-warmed plums,
if my body curves over the babies,

and if I am singing,
then loneliness has lost its shape,
and this quiet is only quiet.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Rachel Contreni Flynn, whose newest book, Tongue, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. Reprinted from Haywire, Bright Hill Press, 2009, by permission of Rachel Contreni Flynn 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.
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4/27/2010


by Dan Veach
Millers

Small, unassuming, dusty gold,
their wings swept back like jets,
we called them “millers”
years before I heard 
of human mills and millers.
Little skippers built for speed,

you had to be lucky and lightening quick
to catch one. When released,
they left a fairy powder
on our fingers, flecks of gold
more finely divided than dust.
I knew what it meant to catch a fleeting thing

before they ever taught me how to grind 
the flour of the word. Before I ever heard
of Chaucer’s miller, windmills,
Don Quixote’s reckless charge—
before I ever threw myself, headlong
against the whirling beauty of the world.  

-from Cortland Review, August 2009

4/19/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 265
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Tell a whiny child that she sounds like a broken record, and she’s likely to say, “What’s a record?” Jeff Daniel Marion, a Tennessee poet, tells us not only what 78 rpm records were, but what they meant to the people who played them, and to those who remember the people who played them.
 
78 RPM
In the back of the junkhouse
stacked on a cardtable covered
by a ragged bedspread, they rest,
black platters whose music once
crackled, hissed with a static
like shuffling feet, fox trot or two-step,
the slow dance of the needle
riding its merry-go-round,
my mother’s head nestled
on my father’s shoulder as they
turned, lost in the sway of sounds,
summer nights and faraway
places, the syncopation of time
waltzing them to a world
they never dreamed, dance
of then to the dust of now.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Jeff Daniel Marion. Reprinted from his most recent book of poems, Father, Wind Publications, 2009, by permission of Jeff Daniel Marion 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.
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3/28/2010



by Marilyn Annucci

Whole Foods

are so much better than little bits, little chewed off
pieces of foods one might leave for a bird or a woman
without a home.  Not whole, as in lacking parts: broccoli
without heads, potatoes missing eyes.  Maimed foods.
Pork chops on their last legs.  Tomatoes with their skins
blown off. Bread crumbs.  The whole crumby world out
there, not in here.  Whole, as in what more could you ask
for: bright organic peppers in the jet of the spritzer.  Crisp
stalks of celery, fennel, white asparagus.  Complete, as in
all of us together, smiling, restored, fully realized as we reach
for that tiramisu.  Rich, as in not poor, not stuck with radiated
beef, milk, mutated chickens, as in not free, not free-range at all. 

-published as “The [Failed] Ghost Copy Writer: Whole Foods” in The American Poetry Journal (Number 8, 2008)




3/15/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 260
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
This column marks our fifth anniversary, and we send you our thanks for supporting what we try to accomplish here.
These days are brim full of bad news about our economy—businesses closing, people losing their houses, their jobs. If there’s any comfort in a situation like this, it’s in the fact that there’s a big community of sufferers. Here’s a poem by Dana Bisignani, who lives in Indiana, that describes what it feels like to sit through a bankruptcy hearing.
 
Bankruptcy Hearing
They have us corralled
in the basement of the courthouse.
One desk and a row of folding chairs—
just like first grade, our desks facing Teacher
in neat little rows.
      Upstairs,
wooden benches like pews and red
carpet reserved for those who’ve held out
the longest. No creditors have come to claim us
today. We’re small-time.
This guy from the graveyard shift
stares at his steel-toed boots, nervous hands
in his lap. None of us look each other
in the eye. We steal quick looks—how did you
get here. . .
chemo bills, a gambling addiction,
a summer spent unemployed and too many
cash advances to pay the rent.
We examine the pipes that hang
from the ceiling, the scratched tiles on the floor,
the red glow of the exit sign at the end of the hall
so like our other failed escapes:
light of the TV at night,
glass of cheap Merlot beside a lamp,
a stop light on the way out of town.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Dana Bisignani and reprinted from Blue Collar Review, Vol. 12, Issue 2, Winter 2008-2009, by permission of Dana Bisignani and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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.

3/08/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 259
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Wisconsin writer Freya Manfred is not only a fine poet but the daughter of the late Frederick Manfred, a distinguished novelist of the American west. Here is a lovely snapshot of her father, whom I cherished among my good friends.
Green Pear Tree in September 
On a hill overlooking the Rock River
my father’s pear tree shimmers,
in perfect peace,
covered with hundreds of ripe pears
with pert tops, plump bottoms,
and long curved leaves.
Until the green-haloed tree
rose up and sang hello,
I had forgotten. . .
He planted it twelve years ago,
when he was seventy-three,
so that in September
he could stroll down
with the sound of the crickets
rising and falling around him,
and stand, naked to the waist,
slightly bent, sucking juice
from a ripe pear.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2003 by Freya Manfred. Her most recent book of poems is Swimming With A Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle, Red Dragonfly Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from My Only Home, Red Dragonfly Press, 2003, by permission of Freya Manfred and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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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2/22/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 257
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
Often when I dig some change out of my jeans pocket to pay somebody for something, the pennies and nickels are accompanied by a big gob of blue lint. So it’s no wonder that I was taken with this poem by a Massachusetts poet, Gary Metras, who isn’t embarrassed.
Lint
It doesn’t bother me to have 
lint in the bottoms of pant pockets; 
it gives the hands something to do, 
especially since I no longer hold 
shovel, hod, or hammer 
in the daylight hours of labor 
and haven’t, in fact, done so 
in twenty-five years. A long time 
to be picking lint from pockets. 
Perhaps even long enough to have 
gathered sacks full of lint 
that could have been put 
to good use, maybe spun into yarn 
to knit a sweater for my wife’s 
Christmas present, or strong thread 
whirled and woven into a tweedy jacket. 
Imagine entering my classroom 
in a jacket made from lint. 
Who would believe it? 
Yet there are stranger things— 
the son of a bricklayer with hands 
so smooth they’re only fit 
for picking lint.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by Gary Metras, whose most recent book of poems is Greatest Hits 1980-2006, Pudding House, 2007. Poem reprinted from Poetry East, Nos. 62 & 63, Fall 2008, by permission of Gary Metras 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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2/15/2010




VALENTINES                                                        
by Robin  Chapman

In first grade, punching out
The cartoon speakers ballooning "Be mine,"
Laboriously copying names on the backs,
I learned who belonged to my class,
Not to leave anyone out,
And the terror and power of words— 
Whether to sign this one ‘from’ or ‘love’;

By fifth, the list mastered,
I concentrated on
The handmade art of the singled-out heart,
Folding the red construction paper in two
And cutting out half of the imagined whole     
For a boy I was too shy to speak to,
Worrying over whether I should send
The one that was too skinny or too fat;

And so it went, over the years,
The ones I sent, the ones I read,
The ones signed ‘from’ or ‘love’,
The ones that didn’t come, the ones
I didn’t send, the too-fat, too-skinny
Lopsided ones, the ones I bought myself,
While the real heart in the body beat steadily,
Keeping its faithful pace awake or asleep,
From first breath to last;
  
                                        unfolding
The morning paper last week to the hungry face
Of the Sudanese mother carrying the bones
Of her starving son on her shoulders,
Heart the only muscle he had left— 
No words for the courage and power in her face,
Or the terror of the world,
Though I am frantically cutting out hearts
For every one of us,
All of them signed ‘love.’

-from The Way In (Tebot Bach, 1999), copyright 1999 by Robin Chapman

2/08/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 255
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
A honeymoon. How often does one happen according to the dreams that preceded it? In this poem, Wesley McNair, a poet from Maine, describes a first night of marriage in a tawdry place. But all’s well that ends well.
For My Wife
How were we to know, leaving your two kids
behind in New Hampshire for our honeymoon
at twenty-one, that it was a trick of cheap
hotels in New York City to draw customers
like us inside by displaying a fancy lobby?
Arriving in our fourth-floor room, we found
a bed, a scarred bureau, and a bathroom door
with a cut on one side the exact shape
of the toilet bowl that was in its way
when I closed it. I opened and shut the door,
admiring the fit and despairing of it. You
discovered the initials of lovers carved
on the bureau’s top in a zigzag, breaking heart.
How wrong the place was to us then,
unable to see the portents of our future
that seem so clear now in the naiveté
of the arrangements we made, the hotel’s
disdain for those with little money,
the carving of pain and love. Yet in that room
we pulled the covers over ourselves and lay
our love down, and in this way began our unwise
and persistent and lucky life together.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Wesley McNair, whose most recent book of poems is Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems, Godine, 2010. Poem reprinted from Five Points, Vol. 12, no. 3, by permission of Wesley McNair 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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2/01/2010


American Life in Poetry: Column 254
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
What might my late parents have thought, I wonder, to know that there would one day be an occupation known as Tooth Painter? Here’s a partial job description by Lucille Lang Day of Oakland, California.
Tooth Painter
He was tall, lean, serious
about his profession,
said it disturbed him
to see mismatched teeth.
Squinting, he asked me
to turn toward the light
as he held an unglazed crown
by my upper incisors.
With a small brush he applied
yellow, gray, pink, violet
and green from a palette of glazes,
then fired it at sixteen hundred
degrees. We went outside
to check the final color,
and he was pleased. Today
the dentist put it in my mouth,
and no one could ever guess
my secret: there’s no one quite
like me, and I can prove it
by the unique shade of
the ivory sculptures attached
to bony sockets in my jaw.
A gallery opens when I smile.
Even the forgery gleams.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2009 by Lucille Lang Day and reprinted from The Curvature of Blue, Cervena Barva Press, 2009, by permission of Lucille Lang Day 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.