Ted Kooser, former U. S. Poet Laureate, in
response to an interviewer for National Public Radio, stated that
his "project" as laureate was to establish a weekly column featuring
contemporary American poems supported by The Poetry Foundation, The
Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University
of Nebraska. This column appears in online publications (such
as Thirty-Seven Cents) as well as hard-copy newspapers. Poets
are asked to contact their local newspapers to inform them that such
a column is available free to them and to relieve the editor by
explaining that all of the poems that will appear week by week are
accessible, not obscure, poems.
|American Life in Poetry: Column 153
KOOSER, U.S. POET
In this endearing short poem by Californian Trish Dugger, we can
imagine "what if?" What if we had been given "a baker's dozen of
hearts?" I imagine many more and various love poems would be
written. Here Ms. Dugger, Poet Laureate of the City of
Encinitas, makes fine use of the one patched but good heart she
We barge out of the womb
with two of them: eyes, ears,
arms, hands, legs, feet.
Only one heart. Not a good
plan. God should know we
need at least a dozen,
a baker's dozen of hearts.
They break like Easter eggs
hidden in the grass,
stepped on and smashed.
My own heart is patched,
bandaged, taped, barely
the same shape it once was
when it beat fast for you.
American Life in Poetry:
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET
The American poet Elizabeth Bishop often wrote of how
places--both familiar and foreign--looked, how they seemed. Here
Marianne Boruch of Indiana begins her poem in this way, too, in
a space familiar to us all but made new--made strange--by close
It seems so--
I don't know. It seems
as if the end of the world
has never happened in here.
No smoke, no
dizzy flaring except
those candles you can light
in the chapel for a quarter.
They last maybe an hour
before burning out.
And in this room
where we wait, I see
them pass, the surgical folk--
nurses, doctors, the guy who hangs up
the blood drop--ready for lunch,
their scrubs still starched into wrinkles,
a cheerful green or pale blue,
and the end of a joke, something
about a man who thought he could be--
what? I lose it
in their brief laughter.
|American Life in Poetry: Column 154|
KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Here, poet Yusef Komunyakaa, who teaches at New York University,
shows us a fine portrait of the hard life of a worker--in this
case, a horse--and, through metaphor, the terrible, clumsy
beauty of his final moments.
When the plowblade struck
An old stump hiding under
The soil like a beggar's
Rotten tooth, they swarmed up
& Mister Jackson left the plow
Wedged like a whaler's harpoon.
The horse was midnight
Against dusk, tethered to somebody's
Pocketwatch. He shivered, but not
The way women shook their heads
Before mirrors at the five
& dime--a deeper connection
To the low field's evening star.
He stood there, in tracechains,
Lathered in froth, just
Stopped by a great, goofy
Calmness. He whinnied
Once, & then the whole
Beautiful, blue-black sky
Fell on his back.
American Life in Poetry: Column 156
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET
We greatly appreciate your newspaper's use of this column, and
today we want to recognize newspaper employees by including a
poem from the inside of a newsroom. David Tucker is deputy
managing editor of the New Jersey "Star-Ledger" and has been a
reporter and editor at the "Toronto Star" and the "Philadelphia
Inquirer." He was on the "Star-Ledger" team that won the 2005
Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Mr. Tucker was awarded a
Witter-Bynner fellowship for poetry in 2007 by former U. S. Poet
Laureate, Donald Hall.
A slow news day, but I did like the obit about the butcher
who kept the same store for fifty years. People remembered
when his street was sweetly roaring, aproned
with flower stalls and fish stands.
The stock market wandered, spooked by presidential winks,
by micro-winds and the shadows of earnings. News was
around the horizon, ready as summer clouds to thunder--
but it moved off and we covered the committee meeting
at the back of the statehouse, sat around on our desks,
then went home early. The birds were still singing,
the sun just going down. Working these long hours,
you forget how beautiful the early evening can be,
the big houses like ships turning into the night,
their rooms piled high with silence.
|POEMS BY MEMBERS
April's gliding in
on slippers green.
The woods and the world
come back to life.
Red Buds and Dogwood
bloom and preen,
for summer's strife.
DREAMS OR TRANSITIONS?
When I dream,
is it in haste,
is it in poetry?
Does it fade upon awakening?
Is it of wealth, of
or of ephemeral things,
like love and rapture,
and cozy hugs once felt in spring,
lingering into the fall of our relationship--
now, like us, wilting on the vine.
What are my hopes
as I grow old?
To live in luxury,
or love's warm robe of comfort,
not possible alone,
with long fading feelings
of having been wronged?
I dream hazily, lazily,
of what might someday be,
and long ago was, though briefly,
having been spoiled
by trivializing realities.
Now grown and tall,
they honor us with their calls.
Diane Auser Stefan
late that day—
woke with hunger
bigger than the Bronx!
So he started to cook—
melting butter in the pan,
adding onions, sliced
crushed walnuts, an egg—
a midday meal fit for a
king in Queens!
We can’t climb any higher mountain
Than Mt. Zion where saints
gather in prayer.
O the joy we have worshiping
You who gave all to become
May our hearts be full of
As we sing our songs in
Let them be acceptable to
A cherished prize absolute
MUTINY AT OAKCREST
AFTER A BOIL-WATER ORDER
Henrietta W. Romman
Last month, at sundown to
We heard some murmurs then more cries,
The proclamation for the water well
Was "Contamination! Obnoxious smell!"
Challenging shouts rose in the air:
"No more drinking-water to spare."
The residents were
dauntless and bold,
The sheriff was instantly called.
Their outrageous determination
Edged with bitter exclamation,
A gleam of vengeance in their eyes.
The sheriff shut out the water supplies!
Tough work continued dusk
Still no healthy water for us to own.
With weeks carrying water from the store,
Our backs were complaining and sore.
God only knows we cannot blaspheme
Against an order high and supreme.
We kept on boiling and
We kept on toiling and wailing,
"O good old H20, O good old H20,
O healthy H20, where did you go?
O where did you go? O where did you go?
We need to know. We need to k
ON THE AURORA BRIDGE
She started when she was only three
When she took home
The tiny crystal bottles
Found lying on the bridge.
When a hurt would overtake her,
She would pull a bottle from beneath her bed,
Cry her tears into its emptiness,
Then seal it tight.
For every hurt,
The tears shed over the years
Were captured inside a new vial.
She only allowed herself to cry
The few tears needed
To fill its meager depth.
All her tiny jars of sorrow were kept
Out of sight.
On the night before her wedding,
Just before age of twenty-one,
As she packed the last of her belongings,
The tear-filled bottles rolled out
From beneath her bed.
Suppressed emotions began to seize her;
Fear, doubt, guilt, and pain.
Her unshed tears not placed in isolation
Mounted to a breaking point inside her.
So she gathered all her imprisoned emotions
And drove out to the bridge.
She opened all the bottles and emptied
All her hurts and tears into the water below.
Climbing up and over the railing,
She stared at the horizon a brief moment before she let go,
throwing herself into the swirling lake.
All her tiny crystal bottles lay up on the bridge
Until a girl,
No more than four,
Picked them up and carried them home.
JUST PASSING THROUGH
FRANKFURT AND BACK THROUGH CHICAGO
At port Frankfurt it’s
to travelers’ astonishment—
if you go through their terminal
you’ll run the gauntlet criminal,
for they are frankly
Like hell, it’s dark and virulent,
you’ll suffer thirst and harassment.
They’ll misdirect you farcical
at port Frankfurt.
By chance and sheer luck
we found restrooms convenient,
a vendor not too bestial,
a place to sit in airport thrall
until our flight was imminent
at port Frankfurt.
Returning home, on
“all’s well ends well” the jamboree,
the customs agent was our chum,
our country loves the venturesome
returning citizens. We’re free
at mad O’Hare.
THIS SPLENDORED THING
Love is a many splendored thing . . . all you need is love.
I thought of writing you a
letter or painting you a picture, or
even taking a photograph that captures what I want to say,
but words are my art;
in poetic beauty
they paint on canvas the vivid art you are to me.
The brisk cool of late
autumn turns quickly to winter’s chilling cold;
you told me once there is something mysterious in that season,
in the way cold winds chase you
and awaken parts of your soul long kept dormant,
while the rest of the world hibernates
and waits for warmer days.
Warmer days are coming, and the warm winds
carry change fast approaching.
She came, dancing on the
winds of independence,
her intoxicating air swept round the room,
and you couldn’t breathe enough of her,
see enough of her.
The fire in her soul awakened the embers in yours;
autumn passed, winter took its place. Spring
arose triumphantly, and with it,
the fear that this would fade.
The heat of late spring swelled into the full force of summer,
but each day
only strengthened the interwoven threads
binding her to you
and you to her.
You and she are:
silence over a cup of coffee; the look that
needs no verbal accompaniment; a cold night;
sacrifice that asks for no other justification;
peace under blankets of down.
Eloquence and the right
words left you
as you bent on knee
under oak shade;
a sparrow sang in the branches above,
the clouds moved across the sky in a choreographed dance, and
the wind whispered to the swaying grass of beauty seldom found,
glimpsed here only by the July mosquito and Midwest grasshoppers.
As the amber sky fades to
shades of purples and then to the deep blues of night,
this love, this harmonized song of life, will not fade;
it will only grow brighter, stronger, with the coming of the new
and will forever be the art this world needs to see.
In celebration of
winter's end, wee
herald nature's promise.
Upon the soft dusk,
spring's peeper chorus
serenades the earth with
Hear the pond dwellers
triumphant concert and
be assured all the
world is in tune.
early spring warmth
a mourning cloak butterfly
on the witch hazel
redbud in full bloom
poet colleague discovers
she has lymphoma
lady in new grave
owing the cemetery
a clean-up fee
in the newly-green garden
AN ODE TO VERSE
I'll never hear, though I
a tree sound lovely as a
poem . . .
a verse whose words sing
and make my toes tip-tap in
I love that God created
trees . . .
they blossom forth for us
they shelter birds, shade
girls and boys,
but unlike poems, make
CONCRETE BUT A MEMORY
A riderless motorcycle
on pavement where its engine
used to rev. Tornadic swirls
have passed, and "Six hundred
fifty pounds of metal,"
the owner said, "blown over
by the wind."
A dead motorcycle
is something I've never seen
before. Stiff and lifeless,
poised for burial,
the Kawasaki cadaver
will never know concrete again.
35,000 miles of heartbeats
its owner in disbelief.
I yearn to hear its engine
one more time,
to see its exhaust
churn out morning clouds.
But once the breathing stops,
there is no rewind.
INTO THESE HAPPY YEARS
That which makes a good spouse
makes a bad poet, I suspect
and settle gently . . . soundlessly
like a heavy snowfall . . . into
happy years. It's toasty under
all these conventions, you know.
They say poets get warm here,
fall asleep, have been known
to disappear and perish altogether
in this place.
True, my students sometimes
like to google Guthrie, early Dylan,
Kerouac and Ferlinghetti
because of me. Small consolation,
though, as I wonder:
why am I not the one stretched
under the moon, unshaven
in my own hut on my own mountain
peak? Why am I not hopping trains
to the West Coast, challenging
authority, reading radical poetry
to motley slam crowds in New York
or Chicago, flapping these arms
on a private beach like a crazy bird,
building fires and stacking coals
to heat a can of beans? Why won't
future generations google me?
That which makes a good spouse
makes a bad poet, I suspect,
and I'm a pretty good spouse.
ACROSTIC # 2
A n acrostic can
B ecome a plan
R esembling an
I nner puzzle, but
E very puzzler
F inds an answer
H idden somewhere
I n the muddle.
D on't give up--
D iscover the key,
E nter the password,
N ow wait and see.
G oogle knows
SHARP, FRAGILE FLASH
On a wet and grey
the old buck
with a crown of thorns
no lady companions—
like flash lightning
onto the narrow road,
all senses razor-keen.
As for me,
and a roller-coaster
scream choked back.
A sharp fragile flash:
only a split-second
before my truck
and he made
his grace escape
beyond the light.
there is no recall
lost, not found
perhaps misplaced in
time's vast sock drawer
Laurence W. Thomas
When you were with me these
same scenes beneath the trees shocking winter ennui into such green
to give us pause,
later would wear into such
matter-of-fact passing that we made
of our indifference. Along these streets decked out to celebrate
seasons, we feigned a
shudder as ghaisties and ghoulies chanted their way to mysterious
homes they hoped would be haunted.
When electric icicles hung from gutters, trees bloomed in the
and in living rooms, we were given to wonder, and sometimes
at such gauche
demonstrations of faith, strengthening ours in each other. We didn’t
always agree, when we took our tours,
on the changing of seasons;
you saw death in the leafless trees,
the barren bushes, and I saw still life patterns, traceries
of bare branches that held
beauty while making solemn promises
that what we had, we’ll have again with all the coming solstices.
They came upon the lone tower of bark
in the clearing,
standing stick straight,
wholly resistant to the breeze.
He saw its powerful trunk,
branches extending upward
into the sky
further than his eyes could scale.
He envied its strength,
its enduring power that
supported it until
climbing toward heaven,
spreading themselves across
the sky, mastering the universe—
and the tree became
But she, she looked closely
and saw the tree’s weathered clothing
that shed itself whenever
she brushed its ancient bark,
and saw the weakness in its
and its lonely limbs, to her,
did not overpower the sky
but instead begged for
guidance from a greater authority,
pleaded for a cure
from its solitary position.
She couldn’t bear its loneliness—
and the tree became
Six of his neighbor’s chickens come to scratch
celestial providence in his backyard.
Their busy feet assert their need to find
some food and gravel bits to grind it fine.
This dusty industry enables sight,
for as they stir the thickening clouds about,
he understands that such provision puts
the ordained grit within his gizzard, too.
They move away, aware of chickenness
but not of his now quickened consciousness
of lessons learned from feathered messengers.
VISIT WORKSHOP FOR AN