Ted Kooser, current 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 on-line 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 139
KOOSER, U.S. POET
Man's best friend is, of course, woman's best friend, too. The
Illinois poet, Bruce Guernsey, offers us this snapshot of a
mutually agreed upon dependency that leads to a domestic
The Lady and the Tramp
As my mother's memory dims
she's losing her sense of smell
and can't remember the toast
blackening the kitchen with smoke
or sniff how nasty the breath of the dog
that follows her yet from room to room,
unable, himself, to hear his own bark.
It's thus they get around,
the wheezing old hound stone deaf
baying like a smoke alarm
for his amnesiac mistress whose back
from petting him is bent forever
as they shuffle towards the flaming toaster
and split the cindered crisp that's left.
American Life in Poetry:
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET
Life becomes more complicated every day, and each of us can
control only so much of what happens. As for the rest?
Poet Thomas R. Smith of Wisconsin offers some practical advice.
It's like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.
The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers--
all show up at their intended destinations.
The theft that could have happened doesn't.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.
And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can't read the address.
|American Life in Poetry: Column 140|
KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Here's a holiday poem by Steven Schneider that I like
very much for its light spirit and evocative sensory detail.
Isn't this a party to which you'd like to be invited?
Chanukah Lights Tonight
Our annual prairie Chanukah party--
latkes, kugel, cherry blintzes.
Friends arrive from nearby towns
and dance the twist to "Chanukah Lights Tonight,"
spin like a dreidel to a klezmer hit.
The candles flicker in the window.
Outside, ponderosa pines are tied in red bows.
If you squint,
the neighbors' Christmas lights
look like the Omaha skyline.
The smell of oil is in the air.
We drift off to childhood
where we spent our gelt
on baseball cards and matinees,
cream sodas and potato knishes.
No delis in our neighborhood,
only the wind howling over the crushed corn stalks.
Inside, we try to sweep the darkness out,
waiting for the Messiah to knock,
wanting to know if he can join the party.
American Life in Poetry:
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET
There's that old business about the tree falling in the middle
of the forest with no one to hear it: does it make a noise? Here
Linda Gregg, of New York, offers us a look at an elegant beauty
that can be presumed to exist and persist without an observer.
All that is uncared for.
Left alone in the stillness
in that pure silence married
to the stillness of nature.
A door off its hinges,
shade and shadows in an empty room.
Leaks for light. Raw where
the tin roof rusted through.
The rustle of weeds in their
different kinds of air in the mornings,
year after year.
A pecan tree, and the house
made out of mud bricks. Accurate
and unexpected beauty, rattling
and singing. If not to the sun,
then to nothing and to no one.
POEMS BY MEMBERS
Laurence W. Thomas
The body grows as it rolls
into quite a respectable snowball
with a smaller roll placed on top.
Not quite what we wanted
we note as we finally heft
the head into place.
As kids, we made these.
Now, we canít find coal and
somebody steals the carrot
Perpetuity is the
thousands of airplane shaped seeds
hanging from my red bud tree.
NUCLEAR, ALL NUCLEAR
the seventeen have since set
aside their earthly chores
and paved the paths to eternity
for those who remain.
Over fifty years,
the original number
has dwindled by a third.
How could fifty years
have passed this quickly?
Not long ago, I sat
with sixteen comrades
on a green-and-white draped stage,
doubting, with them, that twelve seasons
of public school
could have become so suddenly
all seventeen to distant corners
of the globe,
serving country, self,
and the neediest of humanity.
behind their mark
in a century
born of bombs and medicine--
nuclear, all nuclear.
poet, wherever you may be,
poetic phrase you dare pen
or cuts the wintry air in both the far
and near west. Specially true in this miraculous
May each of us splash in a river of love
our way by flashing thoughts, a raging light,
worth, a beautiful complication, or hand-rubbed
sounds from a plain-talking magnificent
We rode the Branson Scenic Railway line
(a vintage train with engine at each end)--
secured our tickets in advance and got
prime places in an observation car.
We started rolling quietly, above
the Taneycomo Lake, through Hollister,
past fields with turkeys, up an eight-mile grade,
saw long-deserted villages through trees,
snaked into tunnels cut from solid rock,
and out on ridge tops in the sinking sun.
Somewhere we crossed the line to Arkansas
and ended high above a deep ravine
on trestle tracks, where one huge eagle soared,
and swooping, disappeared. We stopped midway,
suspended. Then the train crept slowly back,
retracing our same path, the same scenes scrolled
across our view, a drama in reverse.
We ended at the start, a train of fools.
We never made it to an end depot--
we never placed our feet in Arkansas.
We felt a vague unconsummated, flat
and disappointing loss-- we got nowhere!
I'm almost tired of going back and forth--
You think you're getting somewhere and you're not--
I'd like to cross that great divide, to let
the eagle lead me to the other side.
I'd like to step out on that higher ground,
the land of promises fulfilled, without
encumbrances or baggage, just step out
into a warm familial embrace.
I have my one-way ticket: all aboard!
"To improve your
memory, think AIR." I
could remember Intensity,
But listening to a wren,
I couldn't get my brain around
Diane Auser Stefan
Kenyon writes no more
too young, death stopped her pen
White Daffodils at her grave. . .
writing 100 right poems
if they did not,
would be regrets. . .
were not penned,
did not marvel
a long gray hair,
did not each find joy and wonder
mornings with the
at their side,
did not share trust in a biscuit
would be regrets
did not search for happiness and honesty
own written words
Janeís Girls, write on
be proud, as am I
been able to call you
her poetic friends.
NEW YEAR 2008
I've made a resolution
to start a revolution
in the way I live my life:
Eliminate the strife.
I'll exercise each day
and greatly change the way
I plan my every meal:
Seeking calories to steal.
When two thousand nine comes
in good health I'll abound--
no bad habits to stop:
Champagne cork will pop!
ozark thin topsoil
holding my footsteps among
the oaks and hickories
A MESSAGE OF LOVE:
CHRISTMAS, NEW YEAR, EASTER
At this time of year
I' d rather have a hug.
You live so near
I need no cards my dear.
Kindly whisper unto
the Lord for me
a wishful prayer
that stands sincere!
A true embrace equals
millions in grace . . .
when from a truthful
heart it will unfold.
The hand is almost dead,
instead, my heart can spray
a prayer, rich in truth
than many words
none of my own.
And when we meet,
with warm words of
concern upon your lips..
our hearts confirm
that Jesus our Messiah
dwells in us!
So kindly, Brother, Sister,
keep me alive with prayers
of uttered blessings--
you too never quit my mind!
Friends, always love me in your thoughts
and heart--no need to send a card.
Dewell H. Byrd
Everyone hushed about the house;
family, friends, neighbors
as if speaking above a whisper
might awaken him.
Cold wind whined under watery skies,
whispered through clapboard cracks.
Small children sought safety
in the corner behind the Franklin stove.
Preacher brought a wooden box, black book.
Everybody wore clean clothes, shiny shoes.
Hugs, tears, muffled voices, songs soft and low,
folks brought Sunday food.
Years have softened the images,
soothed the hurt in my heart.
David became seven forever
that gray November day.
A gentle wind whispers
through the hollows
while Nature tucks in
the valleys and plains
with a blanket of
fleecy new snow.
Round-top Ozark Mountains
don frosty nightcaps as they
stand watch beneath clear
blue-black skies glittered
with infinite brilliant stars.
Diffused moonlight casts
suede shadows from cedars
and bare silhouette trees as
restless solitary deer forage.
dart, leave silent footprints.
In patient pursuit of quarry,
owl's eyes reflect falling snow.
Earth and beasts continue
life's cycle, connected and
vital, under winter's quilt.
LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DOLPHINS
Curiosity kills the prairie dog
while Lucy levitates above the plain,
then rides across the prairie grass
with dolphins emerging on vibrations
from a thirty foot saxophone.
Together they catch giant gusts of sound
across Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada
en route to the Monterey Institute
wades in sunset tidal pool
pink on pink, on pink.
THE WINTERS FROZEN IN
"Where are the
snows of yesteryear?"
we ask as summer lingers till December.
"Why, I remember ponds that froze
and stayed that way
till April," we publicly recollect.
"When I was twelve I got ice-skates
and a rifle
both for Christmas.
The gun's another story, but those skates--
not shoe skates--I mean ones you strapped
and clamped, and if you managed well,
you didn't sprain your ankle,"
we expatiate and then sometimes we improvise:
"I was no Eric
Heiden, no Dan Jansen,
just Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates mixed
up a little bit with 'Peter and the Dike.'"
Our eyes mist
up: "Early in the mornings
we chopped holes for our cattle to get water,
then we'd lay aside the axe, don our skates,
and soar across the ice. No pirouettes,
no fancy stuff, just basic speeding
around and around avoiding reeds
and the fence
strung right across the middle
that made one pond do for two pastures,
and also missing the holes where cattle shoved
aside to drink, then lifted
their sad eyes, brimming over with envy
as they watched us flying, sliding, falling,
struggling back afoot--
back askate that is." We stop and shake
our heads: "No ice like that nowadays."
VISIT WORKSHOP FOR AN