American Life in Poetry: Column 207


People singing, not professionally but just singing for joy, it's a wonderful celebration of life. In this poem by Sebastian Matthews of North Carolina, a father and son happen upon a handful of men singing in a cafe, and are swept up into their pleasure and community.

Barbershop Quartet, 

     East Village Grille

Inside the standard lunch hour din they rise, four

seamless voices fused into one, floating somewhere

between a low hum and a vibration, like the sound

of a train rumbling beneath noisy traffic.

The men are hunched around a booth table,

a fire circle of coffee cups and loose fists, leaning in

around the thing they are summoning forth

from inside this suddenly beating four-chambered

heart. I've taken Avery out on a whim, ordered quesadillas

and onion rings, a kiddy milk with three straws.

We're already deep in the meal, extra napkins

and wipes for the grease coating our faces

and hands like mid-summer sweat. And because

we're happy, lost in the small pleasures of father

and son, at first their voices seem to come from inside

us. Who's that boy singing? Avery asks, unable

to see these men wrapped in their act. I let him

keep looking, rapt. And when no one is paying

attention, I put down my fork and take my boy's hand,

and together we dive into the song. Or maybe it pours

into us, and we're the ones brimming with it.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c)2008 by Sebastian Matthews, whose collection of poems, "We Generous," was published by Red Hen Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from "The Chattahoochee Review," V. 28, no. 2,3, 2008 by permission of Sebastian Matthews.  Introduction copyright (c) 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.