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American Life in Poetry :: Gary Whitehead

American Life in Poetry: Column 749

Lately I’ve been worried about the welfare of a young groundhog who lives under our front deck. His back legs won’t support him and he drags them behind. This poem has been a good lesson for me. That groundhog is neither MY groundhog, nor does he need my pity. This poem is by Gary Whitehead of New York, from his book A Glossary of Chickens: Poems, published by Princeton University Press.

gary whiteheadOne-Legged Pigeon

In a flock on Market,
just below Union Square,
the last to land
and standing a little canted,
it teetered—I want to say now
though it’s hardly true—
like Ahab toward the starboard
and regarded me
with blood-red eyes.
We all lose something,
though that day
I hadn’t lost a thing.
I saw in that imperfect bird
no antipathy, no envy, no vengeance.
It needed no pity,
but just a crumb,
something to hop toward.

Note from American Life in Poetry: We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. 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 ©2013 by Princeton University Press, “One-Legged Pigeon,” by Gary J. Whitehead, from A Glossary of Chickens: Poems (Princeton University Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Gary J. Whitehead and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2019 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.

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