American Life in Poetry: Column 284


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 
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.