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Published August 09, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 593
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Here's a fine, deftly made poem by Meg Kearney, of New Hampshire, in which the details deliver the emotions, which are never overtly named other than by the title. It's my favorite kind of poem, and it's from her book An Unkindness of Ravens, from BOA Editions. Her most recent book is Home By Now (Four Way Books 2009).

Loneliness

The girl hunting with her father approaches
the strange man who has stopped at the end
of his day to rest and look at the lake.
Do you like geese? she asks. The man smiles.
The girl draws a webbed foot from her pocket
and places it in his hand. It's late fall
and still the geese keep coming, two fingers
spread against a caution-yellow sky. Before
he can thank her, the girl has run off, down
to the edge of the water. The man studies her
father, about to bring down his third goose
today—then ponders the foot: soft, pink,
and covered with dirt like the little girl's hand.
He slips it into his coat pocket, and holds it there.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2001 by Meg Kearney, “Loneliness,” from An Unkindness of Ravens, (BOA Editions, 2001). Poem reprinted by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, LTD. Introduction copyright ©2016 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 August 02, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 591
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Dorianne Laux, who lives in North Carolina, is one of our country's most distinguished poets, and here's a poignant poem about a family resemblance. It's from her book Smoke, from BOA Editions.

Ray at 14

Bless this boy, born with the strong face
of my older brother, the one I loved most,
who jumped with me from the roof
of the playhouse, my hand in his hand.
On Friday nights we watched Twilight Zone
and he let me hold the bowl of popcorn,
a blanket draped over our shoulders,
saying, Don't be afraid. I was never afraid
when I was with my big brother
who let me touch the baseball-size muscles
living in his arms, who carried me on his back
through the lonely neighborhood,
held tight to the fender of my bike
until I made him let go.
The year he was fourteen
he looked just like Ray, and when he died
at twenty-two on a roadside in Germany
I thought he was gone forever.
But Ray runs into the kitchen: dirty T-shirt,
torn jeans, pushes back his sleeve.
He says, Feel my muscle, and I do.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2000 by Dorianne Laux, “Ray at 14,” (Smoke, BOA Editions, 2000). Poem reprinted by permission of BOA Editions, Ltd. Introduction copyright ©2016 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 20, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 590
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

As children, just about everyone has experienced the very real fear of an imaginary monster. But what if our mothers could have spoken to our childhood fears? Carrie Shipers of Wisconsin, the author of Family Resemblances: Poems (University of New Mexico Press), depicts just that when a protective mother talks back to her son's Bogeyman in this fine poem.

Mother Talks Back to the Monster

carrie shipersTonight, I dressed my son in astronaut pajamas,
kissed his forehead and tucked him in.
I turned on his night-light and looked for you
in the closet and under the bed. I told him
you were nowhere to be found, but I could smell
your breath, your musty fur. I remember
all your tricks: the jagged shadows on the wall,
click of your claws, the hand that hovered
just above my ankles if I left them exposed.
Since I became a parent I see danger everywhere—
unleashed dogs, sudden fevers, cereal
two days out of date. And even worse
than feeling so much fear is keeping it inside,
trying not to let my love become so tangled
with anxiety my son thinks they're the same.
When he says he's seen your tail or heard
your heavy step, I insist that you aren't real.
Soon he'll feel too old to tell me his bad dreams.
If you get lonely after he's asleep, you can
always come downstairs. I'll be sitting
at the kitchen table with the dishes
I should wash, crumbs I should wipe up.
We can drink hot tea and talk about
the future, how hard it is to be outgrown.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2015 by Carrie Shipers, “Mother Talks Back to the Monster” (North American Review, Vol. 300, no. 4, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Carrie Shipers and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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 12, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 589
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

We hope that you will visit, from time to time, our archived columns at www.americanlifeinpoetry.org, where you may find other poems by the poets we feature. Today's is the third we've published by Sharon Chmielarz. a Minnesota poet with several fine books in print, including The Widow's House, just released by Brighthorse books.

Fisher's Club

sharon chmielarzA roadside inn. Lakeside dive. Spiffed up.
End of a summer day. And I suppose
I should be smiling beneficently
at the families playing near the shore,
their plastic balls and splashes and chatter.

But my eye pivots left to a couple;
he is carrying her into the water.
He's strong enough, and she is light
enough to be carried. I see
how she holds her own, hugging
his neck, his chest steady as his arms.

I have never seen such a careful dunk,
half-dunk, as he gives her. That beautiful
play he makes lifting her from the water.

And I suppose I should be admiring
the sunset, all purple and orange and rose now.
Nice porch here, too. Yeah, great view.

But I have never seen such a loving
carrying as he gives her. Imagine

being so light as to float
above water in love.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2015 by Sharon Chmielarz, “Fisher's Club,” from The Widow's House (Brighthorse Books, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Sharon Chmielarz and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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 June 27, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 587
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Someone told about a blind man who stood at a busy intersection, waving toward all the passing cars. When asked why he did that, he said that there might be someone in one of those cars whom he knew and he didn't want to miss the opportunity. Peter Everwine, a California poet, here gives us another such waver, from his book Listening Long and Late, from the University of Pittsburgh Press.

everwineThe Girl on the Bullard Overpass

The girl on the Bullard overpass
looks happy to be there, getting soaked
in a light rain but waving her hands
to the four o'clock freeway traffic
in which I'm anything but happy.

You might think she's too dumb
to come in out of the rain, but rain
or shine, it doesn't seem to matter.
She's there most every afternoon,
as if she does this for a living.

Some living, I'd say. Doesn't she ever
get bored, or wish someone would stop
and say, "Where to?" and her life would change?
That's how I'd be, hating the noise,
the stink of exhaust, the press of people.

I can't imagine what her life is;
mine is confused and often fretful.
But there's something brave about standing alone
in the rain, waving wild semaphores
of gladness to impatient passersby

too tired or preoccupied to care.
Seeing her at her familiar station
I suddenly grin like a fool, wave back,
and forgive the driver to my right,
who is sullen and staring as I pass.

I find her in my rear-view mirror,
then head for a needed drink and supper.
I don't know where she goes, but I hope
it's to a place she loves. I hope the rain
lets up. I hope she's there tomorrow.


American Life In Poetry does not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2004 by Peter Everwine, “The Girl on the Bullard Overpass,” from Listening Long and Late (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Everwine and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 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 March 11, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 569
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

After my mother died, her best friend told me that they were so close that they could sit together in a room for an hour and neither felt she had to say a word. Here's a fine poem by Dorianne Laux, about that kind of silence. Her most recent book is The Book of Men (W.W. Norton & Co., 2012) and she lives in North Carolina.

Enough Music

doriann lauxSometimes, when we're on a long drive,
and we've talked enough and listened
to enough music and stopped twice,
once to eat, once to see the view,
we fall into this rhythm of silence.
It swings back and forth between us
like a rope over a lake.
Maybe it's what we don't say
that saves us.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 Dorianne Laux, “Enough Music,” (What We Carry, BOA Editions, 1994). Poem reprinted by permission of Dorianne Laux and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 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 March 18, 2016
American Life in Poetry: Column 571
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I suppose some of the newspapers which carry this column still employ young people to deliver the news, but carriers are now mostly adults. I had two paper routes when I was a boy and was pleased to find this reminiscence by Thomas R. Smith, a Wisconsin poet. His most recent book is The Glory, published by Red Dragonfly Press.

The Paper Boy

TRsmithMy route lassos the outskirts,
the reclusive, the elderly, the rural—
the poor who clan in their tarpaper
islands, the old ginseng hunter

Albert Harm, who strings the "crow's
foot" to dry over his wood stove.
Shy eyes of fenced-in horses
follow me down the rutted dirt road.

At dusk, I pedal past white birches,
breathe the smoke of spring chimneys,
my heart working uphill toward someone
hungry for word from the world.

I am Mercury, bearing news, my wings
a single-speed maroon Schwinn bike.
I sear my bright path through the twilight
to the sick, the housebound, the lonely.

Messages delivered, wire basket empty,
I part the blue darkness toward supper,
confident I've earned this day's appetite,
stronger knowing I'll be needed tomorrow.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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 ©2015 by Thomas R. Smith, “The Paper Boy,” from The Glory (Red Dragonfly Press, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Thomas R. Smith and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 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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