American Life in Poetry: Column 398
American Life in Poetry
By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate
David Hernandez is a Californian who knows how to have a good time with his writing. Here’s a delightful flight of fancy based on a negotiation with a postal clerk.
At the Post Office
The line is long, processional, glacial,
and the attendant a giant stone, cobalt blue
with flecks of white, I’m not so much
looking at a rock but a slab of night.
The stone asks if anything inside the package
is perishable. When I say no the stone
laughs, muted thunderclap, meaning
everything decays, not just fruit
or cut flowers, but paper, ink, the CD
I burned with music, and my friend
waiting to hear the songs, some little joy
after chemo eroded the tumor. I know flesh
is temporary, and memory a tilting barn
the elements dismantle nail by nail.
I know the stone knows a millennia of rain
and wind will even grind away
his ragged face, and all of this slow erasing
is just a prelude to when the swelling
universe burns out, goes dark, holds
nothing but black holes, the bones of stars
and planets, a vast silence. The stone
is stone-faced. The stone asks how soon
I want the package delivered. As fast
as possible, I say, then start counting the days.
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 ©2011 by David Hernandez from his most recent book of poems, Hoodwinked, Sarabande Books, 2011. Reprinted by permission of David Hernandez and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 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.
American Life in Poetry provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry: American Life in Poetry seeks to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. There are no costs for reprinting the columns; they do require that you register your publication online and that the text of the column be reproduced without alteration.]