12/12/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 351

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

In many of those Japanese paintings with Mt. Fuji in the background, we find tiny figures moving along under the immensity of the landscape. Here’s an American version of a scene like that, by Stanley Plumly of Maryland, one of our country’s most accomplished poets.

Off A Side Road Near Staunton

Some nothing afternoon, no one anywhere,
an early autumn stillness in the air,
the kind of empty day you fill by taking in
the full size of the valley and its layers leading
slowly to the Blue Ridge, the quality of country,
if you stand here long enough, you could stay
for, step into, the way a landscape, even on a wall,
pulls you in, one field at a time, pasture and fall
meadow, high above the harvest, perfect
to the tree line, then spirit clouds and intermittent
sunlit smoky rain riding the tops of the mountains,
though you could walk until it’s dark and not reach those rains—
you could walk the rest of the day into the picture
and not know why, at any given moment, you’re there.

  
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. Reprinted from Old Heart, by Stanley Plumly. Copyright ©2007 by Stanley Plumly. Used by permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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12/05/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 350

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

The persons we are when we are young are probably buried somewhere within us when we’ve grown old. Denise Low, who was the Kansas poet laureate, takes a look at a younger version of herself in this telling poem.

Two Gates

I look through glass and see a young woman
of twenty, washing dishes, and the window
turns into a painting. She is myself thirty years ago.
She holds the same blue bowls and brass teapot
I still own. I see her outline against lamplight;
she knows only her side of the pane. The porch
where I stand is empty. Sunlight fades. I hear
water run in the sink as she lowers her head,
blind to the future. She does not imagine I exist.

I step forward for a better look and she dissolves
into lumber and paint. A gate I passed through
to the next life loses shape. Once more I stand
squared into the present, among maple trees
and scissor-tailed birds, in a garden, almost
a mother to that faint, distant woman.

  
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 ©2010 by Denise Low, from her most recent book of poetry, Ghost Stories of the New West, Woodley Memorial Press, 2010. Poem reprinted by permission of Denise Low and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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11/23/2011


By Robin Chapman
What Luck 

to be tuned to this fraction

of spectrum we see as rainbow, rainbow,

that our two small ear-drums

move to the hum of another’s voice,

those twin stretched membranes

vibrating resonant with breath,

that these gyroscopes of our inner ear

track our cartwheels when gravity tugs,

that our tongues taste honey and salt.

What luck that we can smell the rain,

that these hands can touch, cradle,

caress this skin that enfolds us

all our days—what luck to be born

root and blossom and branch of life

into this world we’re shaped to—

to tremble in its flux

with the hunting hawk, the mouse

the layered rocks, the eelgrass meadow.

-originally appeared in Ascent and the eelgrass meadow (Tebot Bach),
copyright © 2011 by Robin Chapman

11/14/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 343

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

Most of us have received the delayed news of the death of a family member or friend, and perhaps have reflected on lost opportunities. Here’s a fine poem by J. T. Ledbetter, who lives in California but grew up on the Great Plains.

Crossing Shoal Creek

The letter said you died on your tractor
crossing Shoal Creek.
There were no pictures to help the memories fading
like mists off the bottoms that last day on the farm
when I watched you milk the cows,
their sweet breath filling the dark barn as the rain
that wasn’t expected sluiced through the rain gutters.
I waited for you to speak the loud familiar words
about the weather, the failed crops—
I would have talked then, too loud, stroking the Holstein
moving against her stanchion—
but there was only the rain on the tin roof,
and the steady swish-swish of milk into the bright bucket
as I walked past you, so close we could have touched.

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 ©2010 by J.T. Ledbetter, and reprinted from his most recent book of poetry, Underlying Premises, Lewis Clark Press, 2010, by permission of J.T. Ledbetter and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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10/19/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 343

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

Most of us have received the delayed news of the death of a family member or friend, and perhaps have reflected on lost opportunities. Here’s a fine poem by J. T. Ledbetter, who lives in California but grew up on the Great Plains.

Crossing Shoal Creek

The letter said you died on your tractor
crossing Shoal Creek.
There were no pictures to help the memories fading
like mists off the bottoms that last day on the farm
when I watched you milk the cows,
their sweet breath filling the dark barn as the rain
that wasn’t expected sluiced through the rain gutters.
I waited for you to speak the loud familiar words
about the weather, the failed crops—
I would have talked then, too loud, stroking the Holstein
moving against her stanchion—
but there was only the rain on the tin roof,
and the steady swish-swish of milk into the bright bucket
as I walked past you, so close we could have touched.

  
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 ©2010 by J.T. Ledbetter, and reprinted from his most recent book of poetry, Underlying Premises, Lewis Clark Press, 2010, by permission of J.T. Ledbetter and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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10/11/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 342

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

Your high school English teacher made an effort to teach you and your bored classmates about sonnets, which have specific patterns of rhyme, and he or she used as an example a great poem by Keats or Shelley, about some heroic subject. To counter the memory of those long and probably tedious hours, I offer you this perfectly made sonnet by Roy Scheele, a Nebraska poet, about a more humble, common subject.

Woman Feeding Chickens

Her hand is at the feedbag at her waist,
sunk to the wrist in the rustling grain
that nuzzles her fingertips when laced
around a sifting handful. It’s like rain,
like cupping water in your hand, she thinks,
the cracks between the fingers like a sieve,
except that less escapes you through the chinks
when handling grain. She likes to feel it give
beneath her hand’s slow plummet, and the smell,
so rich a fragrance she has never quite
got used to it, under the seeming spell
of the charm of the commonplace. The white
hens bunch and strut, heads cocked, with tilted eyes,
till her hand sweeps out and the small grain flies.

  
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 ©2010 by Roy Scheele from his most recent book of poetry, A Far Allegiance, The Backwaters Press, 2010. Reprinted by permission of Roy Scheele and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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9/28/2011



by David Graham

The Dogs In Dutch Paintings
   
How shall I not love them, snoozing
right through the Annunciation?  They inhabit
the outskirts of every importance, sprawl
dead center in each oblivious household.

They're digging at fleas or snapping at scraps,
dozing with noble abandon while a boy
bells their tails.  Often they present their rumps
in the foreground of some martyrdom.

What Christ could lean so unconcernedly
against a table leg, the feast above continuing?
Could the Virgin in her joy match this grace
as a hound sagely ponders an upturned turtle?

No scholar at his huge book will capture
my eye so well as the skinny haunches,
the frazzled tails and serene optimism
of the least of these mutts, curled

in the corners of the world's dazzlement.

--  Stutter Monk.  Flume Press, 2000.

9/25/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 339

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

People have been learning to cook since our ancient ancestors discovered fire, and most of us learn from somebody who knows how. I love this little poem by Daniel Nyikos of Utah, for its contemporary take on accepting directions from an elder, from two elders in this instance.

Potato Soup

I set up my computer and webcam in the kitchen
so I can ask my mother’s and aunt’s advice
as I cook soup for the first time alone.
My mother is in Utah. My aunt is in Hungary.
I show the onions to my mother with the webcam.
“Cut them smaller,” she advises.
“You only need a taste.”
I chop potatoes as the onions fry in my pan.
When I say I have no paprika to add to the broth,
they argue whether it can be called potato soup.
My mother says it will be white potato soup,
my aunt says potato soup must be red.
When I add sliced peppers, I ask many times
if I should put the water in now,
but they both say to wait until I add the potatoes.
I add Polish sausage because I can’t find Hungarian,
and I cook it so long the potatoes fall apart.
“You’ve made stew,” my mother says
when I hold up the whole pot to the camera.
They laugh and say I must get married soon.
I turn off the computer and eat alone.

 
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 ©2010 by Daniel Nyikos. Reprinted by permission of Daniel Nyikos. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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8/29/2011





American Life in Poetry: Column 336

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

This week’s column is by Ladan Osman, who is originally from Somalia but who now lives in Chicago. I like “Tonight” for the way it looks with clear eyes at one of the rough edges of American life, then greets us with a hopeful wave.

Tonight

Tonight is a drunk man,
his dirty shirt.

There is no couple chatting by the recycling bins,
offering to help me unload my plastics.

There is not even the black and white cat
that balances elegantly on the lip of the dumpster.

There is only the smell of sour breath. Sweat on the collar of my shirt.
A water bottle rolling under a car.
Me in my too-small pajama pants stacking juice jugs on neighbors’ juice jugs.

I look to see if there is someone drinking on their balcony.

I tell myself I will wave.
 

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 ©2010 by Ladan Osman, and reprinted by permission of the poet. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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8/22/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 335

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

I’ve always been fascinated by miniatures of all kinds, the little glass animals I played with as a boy, electric trains, dollhouses, and I think it’s because I can feel that I’m in complete control. Everything is right in its place, and I’m the one who put it there. Here’s a poem by Kay Mullen, who lives in Washington, about the art of bonsai.


Bonsai at the Potter's Stall

Under fluorescent light,
aligned on a bench

and table top, oranges
the size of marbles dangle

from trees with glossy
leaves. White trumpets

bloom in tiny clay pots.
Under a firethorn’s twisted

limbs, a three inch monk
holds a cup from which

he appears to drink
the interior life. The potter

prizes his bonsai children
who will never grow up,

never leave home.

  
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 Kay Mullen, and reprinted from her most recent book of poetry, A Long Remembering: Return to Vietnam, FootHills Publishing, 2006, by permission of Kay Mullen and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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8/15/2011


by David Graham
Scotch Movies

I like to see the old couple sitting
in their garage right on Route 23
with the door up, facing traffic
on a warm June day, newspaper unread,

as if we were the interesting ones
in our dog-to-the-vet station wagons,
our UPS vans so faithfully frantic,
first-gear dumptrucks groaning with gravel,

when the Mystery itself
has set up its twin folding chairs
in the dusky, oil-scented air,
iced tea slowly warming on a card table

between them, maybe a radio on soft
in the empty kitchen behind.  I like
to believe they speak at long intervals
about how the tomatoes are doing,

heat beginning to ripple the haze
over the highway, through which we plunge
with our designer coffee, our kids in car seats,
clutch of DVDs to return to the store

where they have never been, our couple
nodding like trees at the edge of the wind.

--from Poet's Corner:  Summer.  Ed. Anny Ballardini.  Published July 2009.

8/08/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 333

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

Here is a lovely poem by Robert Cording, a poet who lives in Connecticut, which shows us a fresh new way of looking at something commonplace. That’s the kind of valuable service a poet can provide.

Old Houses

Year after year after year
I have come to love slowly

how old houses hold themselves—

before November’s drizzled rain
or the refreshing light of June—

as if they have all come to agree
that, in time, the days are no longer
a matter of suffering or rejoicing.

I have come to love
how they take on the color of rain or sun
as they go on keeping their vigil

without need of a sign, awaiting nothing

more than the birds that sing from the eaves,
the seizing cold that sounds the rafters.

  
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 ©2010 by Robert Cording from his most recent book of poetry, Walking with Ruskin, CavanKerry Press, Ltd., 2010. Reprinted by permission of Robert Cording. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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8/07/2011


 
by David Graham

On Finding My Father Still in My Address Book

Two years since he died, ten since his last email,
I fight the urge to email him, knowing how I'll feel
when it bounces.  Better to imagine him perched
at his old computer with instruction manual laid out
on the desk, carefully making his way number to number
down the list of Frequently Asked Questions. 

Almost every night I look up at the moon,
the few constellations I can identify, and think
of him sweeping his arm horizon to horizon,
explaining that dome of glitter above us.
I've forgotten most of it besides Orion, Polaris,
the Great and Minor Bears.  But his steady voice
enters my dream like conversation in a room
next door, parents going over their day as the lamp
slowly cools and stars appear out the window.

No words I can make out, but a sound I like to listen for
nonetheless. You are my most frequently asked
question, Dad.  The answer, too, I guess.

--from Poemeleon 5.1 (Winter 2010/11)

8/04/2011



by David Graham

Between Classes

There's nothing worse than old people talking about sex.
    --student, overheard in the hallway


Nothing worse than your lumpy baggage,
flabby duffels and bulging roll-ons
with burst seams and scuffed straps, passports
all smudged with vanished holiday.

Nothing worse than being criss-crossed
with scars you see and those you don't,
some moss-eyed gargoyle in the mirror
having so little to do
with your former cool stream self.

So cover your love with cloudy comforter,
turn the dark down a few notches,
and be quiet about it, please--nothing worse
than those baby sounds from your throats
taking animal pleasure from time.

How dare you strut that mothball stuff
across our dance floor--don't you know
why your babies' tongues are pierced?
Can't you read the ink on our icebright skin?

No one wants the blood lecture,
the arid anecdote.  Don't you remember
this radiator hiss of wisdom
in dusty afternoon?  Nothing sadder
than a wrinkled hipster, still groping
the lingo hopefully, fingering the clothes,
doing that clunk-kneed cha-cha in full view.

Don't be spilling your mess of coffee grounds
and apple peels in our sun. . . . You should
practice safe sex, Sir, in the dumpster
of your mind, all overripe with vocabulary.

-from TriQuarterly 128 (2007).

7/30/2011



by David Graham

Sea Turtle


Deep in your oyster-size brain
is a hatred for sharks,
hunger for jellyfish and crabs,
perfect memory for the sands
of the hatching beach.

You're bad luck, with that barnacle mouth,
plucking ice age sponges
from bottom mud, nearsighted cooter
of the coral reefs.  They say
you drum a storm on boat decks.

But you'll die lunging after plastic bags,
jaw thick with fishhooks
you've eaten the bait from.
Your young will crawl toward the light
they think is moonlit sea--

pavement glittering with headlights.
A jeep will eat the eggs
ghost crabs cannot find.  You'll butt
your nose raw on aquarium walls,
snap dangled fingers like snailshells.

With breath so foul the shrimp-men gag,
a limitless gut, carapace
sharp to slice their nets
and free a day's catch, you're swimming
to beaches that have washed away.

They say turtle steak won't rest
in the pan, that it takes you
a week to die.  They have seen you,
three-legged from old shark bites,
climb crookedly out of the surf

straight into a poacher's machete.
They have seen you headless, dropping eggs.

-from David Graham's Magic Shows. Cleveland State University Poetry Center.  1986.

7/23/2011

By Sandra Lindow: Trich Nhat Hanh on Tyler Avenue

-->

 by Sandra Lindow


Trich Nhat Hanh on Tyler Avenue


Turning sunward out of the driveway,

 Miriam and I in Sunday best,

 Are swirled within a cloud

 Of dazzling gold and crimson leaves;

 I touch my daughter's hand and say,

 "Look at that tree, see how the sunlight

 Breaks into pieces and falls."



 And I am reminded how Master

 Thich Nhat Hanh describes papermaking‑‑

 Poets see paper as floating clouds:

 Without a cloud, there is no rain;

 Without the rain, there is no tree;

 Without a tree, you cannot make paper.



 So a cloud exists within each page,

 Each poem written on cloud and sun and wood,

 Each word, part of the earth,

 Each letter, part of the face of God.


-originally appeared in Wisconsin Poets Calendar 1995.

7/20/2011



American Life in Poetry: Column 330

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

Humans first prized horses for their strength and speed, but we have since been captivated by their beauty, their deep eyes and mysterious silences. Here’s a poem by Robert Wrigley, who lives in Idaho, where the oldest fossilized remains of the modern horse were found.

After a Rainstorm

Because I have come to the fence at night,
the horses arrive also from their ancient stable.
They let me stroke their long faces, and I note
in the light of the now-merging moon

how they, a Morgan and a Quarter, have been
by shake-guttered raindrops
spotted around their rumps and thus made
Appaloosas, the ancestral horses of this place.

Maybe because it is night, they are nervous,
or maybe because they too sense
what they have become, they seem
to be waiting for me to say something

to whatever ancient spirits might still abide here,
that they might awaken from this strange dream,
in which there are fences and stables and a man
who doesn’t know a single word they understand.
 

  
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 ©2010 by Robert Wrigley from his most recent book of poetry, Beautiful Country, Penguin Books, 2010. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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7/06/2011



American Life in Poetry: Column 328

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

How I love poems in which there is evidence of a poet paying close attention to the world about him. Here Angelo Giambra, who lives in Florida, has been keeping an eye on the bees.

The Water Carriers

On hot days we would see them
leaving the hive in swarms. June and I
would watch them weave their way
through the sugarberry trees toward the pond
where they would stop to take a drink,
then buzz their way back, plump and full of water,
to drop it on the backs of the fanning bees.
If you listened you could hear them, their tiny wings
beating in unison as they cooled down the hive.
My brother caught one once, its bulbous body
bursting with water, beating itself against
the smooth glass wall of the canning jar.
He lit a match, dropped it in, but nothing
happened. The match went out and the bee
swam through the mix of sulfur and smoke
until my brother let it out. It flew straight
back to the hive. Later, we skinny-dipped
in the pond, the three of us, the August sun
melting the world around us as if it were
wax. In the cool of the evening, we walked
home, pond water still dripping from our skin,
glistening and twinkling like starlight.

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 Angelo Giambra, whose most recent book of poetry is Oranges and Eggs, Finishing Line Press, 2010. Poem reprinted from the South Dakota Review, Vol. 47, no. 4, Winter 2009, by permission of Angelo Giambra and publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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7/04/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 328

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

I don’t often mention literary forms, but of this lovely poem by Cecilia Woloch I want to suggest that the form, a villanelle, which uses a pattern of repetition, adds to the enchantment I feel in reading it. It has a kind of layering, like memory itself. Woloch lives and teaches in southern California.

My Mother's Pillow

My mother sleeps with the Bible open on her pillow;
she reads herself to sleep and wakens startled.
She listens for her heart: each breath is shallow.

For years her hands were quick with thread and needle.
She used to sew all night when we were little;
now she sleeps with the Bible on her pillow

and believes that Jesus understands her sorrow:
her children grown, their father frail and brittle;
she stitches in her heart, her breathing shallow.

Once she even slept fast, rushed tomorrow,
mornings full of sunlight, sons and daughters.
Now she sleeps alone with the Bible on her pillow

and wakes alone and feels the house is hollow,
though my father in his blue room stirs and mutters;
she listens to him breathe: each breath is shallow.

I flutter down the darkened hallway, shadow
between their dreams, my mother and my father,
asleep in rooms I pass, my breathing shallow.
I leave the Bible open on her pillow.

  
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 Cecilia Woloch, whose most recent book of poetry is Narcissus, Tupelo Press, 2008. Reprinted from Late, by Cecilia Woloch, published by BOA Editions, Rochester, NY, 2003, by permission of Cecilia Woloch. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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6/27/2011



American Life in Poetry: Column 327

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

Some of us have more active fantasy lives than others, but all of us have them. Here Karin Gottshall, who lives in Vermont, shares a variety of loneliness that some of our readers may have experienced.

More Lies
 
Sometimes I say I’m going to meet my sister at the café—
even though I have no sister—just because it’s such
a beautiful thing to say. I’ve always thought so, ever since

I read a novel in which two sisters were constantly meeting
in cafés. Today, for example, I walked alone
on the wet sidewalk, wearing my rain boots, expecting

someone might ask where I was headed. I bought
a steno pad and a watch battery, the store windows
fogged up. Rain in April is a kind of promise, and it costs

nothing. I carried a bag of books to the café and ordered
tea. I like a place that’s lit by lamps. I like a place
where you can hear people talk about small things,

like the difference between azure and cerulean,
and the price of tulips. It’s going down. I watched
someone who could be my sister walk in, shaking the rain

from her hair. I thought, even now florists are filling
their coolers with tulips, five dollars a bundle. All over
the city there are sisters. Any one of them could be mine.
  
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 ©2010 by Karin Gottshall, whose most recent book of poetry is Crocus, Fordham University Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from the New Ohio Review, No. 8, Fall 2010, by permission of Karin Gottshall and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 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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6/19/2011


American Life in Poetry: Column 324

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

Here’s a fine poem by my fellow Nebraskan, Barbara Schmitz, who here offers us a picture of people we’ve all observed but haven’t thought to write about.

Uniforms
 
It is very hot—92 today—to be wearing
a stocking cap, but the adolescent swaggering
through the grocery store automatic door
doesn’t seem to mind; does not even appear
to be perspiring. The tugged-down hat
is part of his carefully orchestrated outfit:
bagging pants, screaming t-shirt, high-topped
shoes. The young woman who yells to her friends
from an open pickup window is attired
for summer season in strapless stretch
tube top, slipping down toward bountiful
cleavage valley. She tugs it up in front
as she races toward the two who have
just passed a cigarette between them
like a baton on a relay team. Her white
chest gleams like burnished treasure
as they giggle loudly there in the corner
and I glance down to see what costume
I have selected to present myself to
the world today. I smile; it’s my sky blue
shirt with large deliberately faded Peace sign,
smack dab in the middle, plus grey suede
Birkenstocks—a message that “I lived through
the sixties and am so proud.” None of the
young look my way. I round the corner and
walk into Evening descending.

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 Barbara Schmitz, whose most recent book of poems is How Much Our Dancing Has Improved, Backwaters Press, 2005. Poem reprinted from the South Dakota Review, Vol. 47, no. 3, 2009, by permission of Barbara Schmitz and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2011 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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5/29/2011



American Life in Poetry: Column 322

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

Cathy Smith Bowers was recently appointed poet laureate of North Carolina, and I want to celebrate her appointment by showing you one of her lovely poems, a peaceful poem about a peaceful thing.

Peace Lilies

I collect them now, it seems. Like
sea-shells or old
thimbles. One for
Father. One for

Mother. Two for my sweet brothers.
Odd how little
they require of
me. Unlike the

ones they were sent in memory
of. No sudden
shrilling of the
phone. No harried

midnight flights. Only a little
water now and
then. Scant food and
light. See how I’ve

brought them all together here in
this shaded space
beyond the stairs.
Even when they

thirst, they summon me with nothing
more than a soft,
indifferent furl-
ing of their leaves.

 
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 ©2004 by Cathy Smith Bowers, whose most recent book of poetry is The Candle I Hold Up to See You, Iris Press, 2009. Poem reprinted from A Book of Minutes, Iris Press, 2004, by permission of Cathy Smith Bowers and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2011 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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