American Life in Poetry: Column 745
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
The following poem by James Davis May, published in 32 Poems Magazine, has a sentence I’d like to underline, because it states just what I look for in the poems I choose for this column: “We praise the world by making / others see what we see.” Here we have moonflowers opening, for a man and his daughter, and for us. The poet lives in Georgia and is the author of Unquiet Things from Louisiana State University Press.
Tonight at dusk we linger by the fence
around the garden, watching the wound husks
of moonflowers unclench themselves slowly,
almost too slow for us to see their moving—
you notice only when you look away
and back, until the bloom decides,
or seems to decide, the tease is over,
and throws its petals backward like a sail
in wind, a suddenness about this as though
it screams, almost the way a newborn screams
at pain and want and cold, and I still hear
that cry in the shout across the garden
to say another flower is about to break.
I go to where my daughter stands, flowers
strung along the vine like Christmas lights,
one not yet lit. We praise the world by making
others see what we see. So now she points and feels
what must be pride when the bloom unlocks itself
from itself. And then she turns to look at me.
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 ©2018 by James Davis May, “Moonflowers,” from 32 Poems Magazine (Number 16.2, Winter, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of James Davis May 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.