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


American Life in Poetry: Column 343


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.