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Published July 30, 2019
American Life in Poetry: Column 749
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

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.
Published July 04, 2019

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.

james davis mayMoonflowers

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.

Published May 20, 2019

American Life in Poetry: Column 739
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I don't suppose there are many of our younger readers who have started to worry about the possibility of memory loss, but I'd guess almost everybody over fifty does. Peter Schneider lives in Massachusetts and this is from his book Line Fence, from Amherst Writers and Artists Press.

Lost in Plain Sight

Somewhere recently
I lost my short-term memory.
It was there and then it moved
like the flash of a red fox
along a line fence.

My short-term memory
has no address but here
no time but now.
It is a straight-man, waiting to speak
to fill in empty space
with name, date, trivia, punch line.
And then it fails to show.

It is lost, hiding somewhere out back
a dried ragweed stalk on the Kansas Prairie
holding the shadow of its life
against a January wind.

How am I to go on?
I wake up a hundred times a day.
Who am I waiting for
what am I looking for
why do I have this empty cup
on the porch or in the yard?
I greet my neighbor, who smiles.
I turn a slow, lazy Susan
in my mind, looking for
some clue, anything to break the spell
of being lost in plain sight.

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 ©2006 by Peter Schneider, "Lost in Plain Sight," from Line Fence (Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2006). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Schneider 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.

Published April 14, 2019

American Life in Poetry: Column 732
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE 

Ezra Pound commanded America's poets to "Make it new." And here's a good example. Has there ever been another poem written, and written beautifully, about children playing among laundry drying on a line? Thomas Reiter, who lives in New Jersey, is a poet whose work I've followed for many years. His most recent book is Catchment. This poem appeared in the Tampa Review.

Pinned in Place

A bed sheet hung out to dry
became a screen for shadow animals.
But of all laundry days in the neighborhood
the windy ones were best,
the clothespins like little men riding
lines that tried to buck them off.
One at a time we ran down the aisles
between snapping sheets
that wanted to put us in our place.
Timing them, you faked and cut
like famous halfbacks. But if a sheet
tagged you it put you down, pinned
by the whiteness floating
against a sky washed by the bluing
our mothers added to the wash water.
Could anyone make it through those days
untouched? You waited for
your chance, then jumped up and finished
the course, rising if you fell again.
Later, let the sky darken suddenly
and we'd be sent out to empty the lines.
All up and down the block, kids
running with bed sheets in their arms,
running like firemen rescuing children.
All night those sheets lay draped
over furniture, as though we were leaving
and would not return for a long time.

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 Thomas Reiter, "Pinned in Place," from Tampa Review (No. 55/56, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Thomas Reiter 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.

Published February 15, 2019
American Life in Poetry: Column 725
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Marge Saiser, who lives in Nebraska, is a fine and a very lucky poet. With the passing of each year her poems have gotten stronger and deeper. That's an enviable direction for a writer. This poem was published in The Briar Cliff Review  and it looks back wisely and wistfully over a rich life. Saiser's most recent book is The Woman in the Moon  from the Backwaters Press.

Weren't We Beautiful

marjorie saisergrowing into ourselves
earnest and funny we were
angels of some kind, smiling visitors
the light we lived in was gorgeous
we looked up and into the camera
the ordinary things we did with our hands
or how we turned and walked
or looked back we lifted the child
spooned food into his mouth
the camera held it, stayed it
there we are in our lives as if
we had all time
as if we would stand in that room
and wear that shirt those glasses
as if that light
without end
would shine on us
and from us.

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 Marjorie Saiser, "Weren't We Beautiful," from The Briar Cliff Review (Vol. 30, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Marjorie Saiser 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.
Published October 17, 2018
American Life in Poetry: Column 707
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Peter Schmitt is a Floridian, and the following poem is from his book, Renewing the Vows, published by David Robert Books. Poetry seems to be the perfect medium for brief anecdotal stories, but most of us have higher expectations of a poem, believing it should reach beneath the surface and draw up something from the deeper parts of experience. This is just such a poem.

The Bench

peter schmittIt's all like a bad riddle, our widow friend
said at the time. If a tree falls in the woods
and kills your husband, what can you build from it?
That she was speaking quite literally
we did not know until the day months later
the bench arrived, filling that foyer space
in the house the neighbors pitched in to finish.

She'd done it, she said, for the sake of the boys,
and was never more sure of her purpose
than when they were off, playing in the woods
their father loved, somewhere out of earshot
and she would be struggling in with groceries.
For her, it was mostly a place to rest
such a weight, where other arms might have reached

to lift what they could. Or like the time we knocked
at her door, and finding it just ajar,
cautiously entered the sunstruck hallway,
and saw her sitting there staring into space,
before she heard our steps and caught herself,
turning smiling toward us, a book left
lying open on the bench beside her.


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 ©2007 by Peter Schmitt, "The Bench," from Renewing the Vows  (David Robert Books, 2007). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Schmitt and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2018 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.


Published September 07, 2018
American Life in Poetry: Column 702
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

David Mason is the former poet laureate of Colorado and a professor of literature and writing at Colorado College. His most recent book is The Sound: New and Selected Poems, from Red Hen press. I very much like the way in which the muddy boots both open and close this poem, in which not one but two biographies are offered to us in less than a hundred words.

The Mud Room

david masonHis muddy rubber boots
stood in the farmhouse mud room
while he sat in the kitchen,
unshaven, dealing solitaire.

His wife (we called her Auntie)
rolled out dough in the kitchen
for a pie, put up preserves
and tidied, clearing her throat.

They listened to the TV
at six, he with his fingers
fumbling the hearing aids,
she watching the kitchen clock.

Old age went on like that,
a vegetable patch, a horse
some neighbor kept in the barn,
the miles of grass and fences.

After he died his boots
stood muddy in the mud room
as if he'd gone in socks,
softly out to the meadow.

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 ©2017 by David Mason, "The Mud Room." Poem reprinted by permission of David Mason. Introduction copyright ©2018 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.
Published July 22, 2018
terri kerby ericksonAmerican Life in Poetry: Column 695
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

In one of my recent columns I wrote about the importance to the overall effect of a poem of having a strong ending, and here's a fine example of that. It's by Terri Kirby Erickson, a North Carolinian, from her book, Becoming the Blue Heron, published by Press 53. Others of Erickson's poems are available in the column's archives at www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

My Cousin, Milton

My cousin, Milton, worked for a cable company.
The boy I knew when we were children

had fists that were often clenched, his face set like
an old man whose life had been so hard,

it hardened him. But the man's hands opened to let
more of the world in. He sent the funniest

cards to family and friends at Christmas, laid down
cable so others could connect. Yet, he lived

alone, kept to himself much of the time, so when
his sister found his body, he'd been gone

a good while. He died young at fifty-seven, without
fuss or bother. No sitting by the bedside

or feeding him soup. He just laid himself down like
a trunk line and let the signal pass through.

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 ©2017 by Terri Kirby Erickson from Becoming the Blue Heron  (Press 53, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Terri Kirby Erickson and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2018 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.
Published February 01, 2018
American Life in Poetry: Column 670
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I'm writing this column on a very cold day, and it's nice to be inside with a board game to play, but better yet, for me at least, to be inside with a poem about a board game. This Monopoly game by Connie Wanek is from her book Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems  from the University of Nebraska Press.

Monopoly

Connie WanekWe used to play, long before we bought real houses.
A roll of the dice could send a girl to jail.
The money was pink, blue, gold, as well as green,
and we could own a whole railroad
or speculate in hotels where others dreaded staying:
the cost was extortionary.

At last one person would own everything,
every teaspoon in the dining car, every spike
driven into the planks by immigrants,
every crooked mayor.
But then, with only the clothes on our backs,
we ran outside, laughing.


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 ©2016 by Connie Wanek, “Monopoly,” from Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems  (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Connie Wanek and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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.
Published January 13, 2018
American Life in Poetry: Column 668
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I've had a couple of aquariums (or is the plural aquaria?), but I didn't take very good care of either one. The glass clouded over with algae, and the fish had to live on whatever they could scrounge because I'd forget to feed them. Some liked eating each other. But here's a poem (a sonnet!) about an aquarium you can actually see into. The poet, Kim Addonizio, lives in California, and her most recent book is Mortal Trash  (W. W. Norton, 2016).

Aquarium

kim addonizio picThe fish are drifting calmly in their tank
between the green reeds, lit by a white glow
that passes for the sun. Blindly, the blank
glass that holds them in displays their slow
progress from end to end, familiar rocks
set into the gravel, murmuring rows
of filters, a universe the flying fox
and glass cats, Congo tetras, bristle-nose
pleocostemus all take for granted. Yet
the platys, gold and red, persist in leaping
occasionally, as if they can't quite let
alone a possibility—of wings,
maybe, once they reach the air? They die
on the rug. We find them there, eyes open in surprise.

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 ©1994 by Kim Addonizio, “Aquarium,” from The Philosopher's Club , (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1994). Poem reprinted by permission of Kim Addonizio and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2017 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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