26
October

Housekeeping by Natasha Trethewey

American Life in Poetry: Column 605
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

tretheweyBeginning writers often tell me their real lives aren’t interesting enough to write about, but the mere act of shaping a poem lifts its subject matter above the ordinary. Here’s Natasha Trethewey, who served two terms as U. S. Poet Laureate, illustrating just what I’ve described. It’s from her book Domestic Work, from Graywolf Press. Trethewey lives in Georgia.

Housekeeping

We mourn the broken things, chair legs
wrenched from their seats, chipped plates,
the threadbare clothes. We work the magic
of glue, drive the nails, mend the holes.
We save what we can, melt small pieces
of soap, gather fallen pecans, keep neck bones
for soup. Beating rugs against the house,
we watch dust, lit like stars, spreading
across the yard. Late afternoon, we draw
the blinds to cool the rooms, drive the bugs
out. My mother irons, singing, lost in reverie.
I mark the pages of a mail-order catalog,
listen for passing cars. All day we watch
for the mail, some news from a distant place.

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9
September

The Jockey by Elise Hempel

American Life in Poetry: Column 598
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

elisehempel
I’d guess that many of us like old toys. As a boy I had a wind-up tin submarine that dove and surfaced, and a few years ago I saw one just like it in the window of an antique store, making me, of course, an antique. Here’s a poem by Elise Hempel of Illinois, from Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose & Art. Her newest book, Second Rain, will be out in the spring of 2016, from Able Muse Press.

The Jockey

Atop his exhausted buggy with its
rusted wheels and now-stuck key,
one boot missing, a faded jersey,
the bill of his cap cracked off, he sits

behind a nicked brown horse that once
flicked its tail, clattered around
planked floor or rug when the buggy was wound
after school by children who’ve since

fallen behind him, white-haired or gone,
as he still waves the flopping spring
of his crop, still stares through dimming
goggles, gathering gray ribbons

of dust in his silent, frozen race
down an ever-unfurling track,
hunched to win, leaving far back
all claps and laughter, his once-smooth face

scarred and pitted, just the white
fleck of a smile now, more a sneer,
his empty fists on the reins of air
still holding tight.

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8
September

Selfless by Rick Stephen

selfless
\ˈsel-fləs\ adjective

having or showing great concern for other people
and little or no concern for yourself

a goal,
a dream,
for the self-centered fool
that I am,
an impossibility

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5
September

Curtains by Stuart Dybek

American Life in Poetry: Column 597
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Stuart Dybek was born in Chicago, where there are at least a couple of hundred hotels a poet might stroll past, looking up at the windows. Here’s a poem from his book, Streets in Their Own Ink, from Farrar, Strauss and Giroux.

curtainsCurtains

Sometimes they are the only thing beautiful
about a hotel.
Like transients,
come winter they have a way of disappearing,
disguised as dirty light,
limp beside a puttied pane.
Then some April afternoon
a roomer jacks a window open,
a breeze intrudes,
resuscitates memory,
and suddenly they want to fly,
while men,
looking up from the street,
are deceived a moment
into thinking
a girl in an upper story
is waving.

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3
September

Absence by Rick Stephen

absenceAbsence
/ˈabsəns/ noun

the state of being away from
a place or person,
the nonexistence
or lack of …

your touch,
your scent,
your way …
you

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5
July

Fisher’s Club by Sharon Chmielarz

If you wish, you may visit the 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

A 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.

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6
June

Delivered by Cynthia Ventresca

American Life in Poetry: Column 585
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

The greeting card companies are still making money, though the inventive online “cards” are gaining ground. Here’s a poem about pen and ink greeting cards, by Cynthia Ventresca, who lives in Delaware.

Delivered

She lived there for years in a
small space in a high rise that saw
her winter years dawn. When the past
became larger than her present,
she would call and thank us for cards
we gave her when we were small;
for Christmas, Mother’s Day, her birthday,
our devotion scrawled amidst depictions
of crooked hearts and lopsided lilies.

She would write out new ones,
and we found them everywhere—unsent;
in perfect cursive she wished us joy,
chains of x’s and o’s circling her signature.
And when her time alone was over,
the space emptied of all but sunshine, dust,
and a cross nailed above her door,
those cards held for us a bitter peace;
they had finally been delivered.

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30
May

One Poet’s Paradox – Rick Stephen

One Poet’s Paradox

I put words to paper
in relentless attempts
to persuade you
I am no fraud

But how can I
sway you when
I fail to convince
even myself?

Endless words
penned countless times
to prove that which I
can’t accept myself.

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29
May

My Dead by Tim Nolan

tim-nolan-298x450American Life in Poetry: Column 583
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

At some moment every day I call up a memory of one or another of my family members who have passed on, so I was especially taken with this poem by Tim Nolan, who lives in Minnesota. His forthcoming book is The Field, (New Rivers Press, October, 2016).

My Dead

They grow in number all the time
The cat, the Mother, the Father
The grandparents, aunts, and uncles

Those I knew well and hardly at all
My best friend from when I was ten
The guy who sat with me in the back

Of the class where the tall kids lived
Bill the Shoemaker from Lyndale Avenue
The Irish poet with rounded handwriting

They live in The Land of Echo, The Land
Of Reverb, and I hear them between
The notes of the birds, the plash of the wave

On the smooth rocks. They show up
When I think of them, as if they always
Are waiting for me to remember

I drive by their empty houses
I put on their old sweaters and caps
I wear their wristwatches and spend

Their money. So now I’m in six places
At once—if not eighteen or twenty
So many places to be thinking of them

Strange how quiet they are with their presence
So humble in the low song they sing
Not expecting that anyone will listen

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18
April

The Way We Said Goodbye by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

kooser_hp
American Life in Poetry: Column 578

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I can’t help wishing that dogs lived as long as we do. I have buried a number of them, and it doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it gets harder. Here’s Mark Vinz, a Minnesota poet, from his book Permanent Record and Other Poems, from Red Dragonfly Press.

The Way We Said Goodbye

So many years later, the old dog
still circles, head lowered, crippled by
arthritis, nearly blind, incontinent.
We repeat the litany, as if we need
convincing that the end is right.

I’ll get her an ice cream cone if you’ll
drive her to the vet, my wife says.
So there we sit on the front steps
with our friend, and in the car, as always,
when she senses the doctor’s office
drawing near, she moans and tries to
burrow underneath the seats.

 What remains, the memory of how
she taught us all the way we need
to learn to live with wasting.
There we sit, together, one last time
as all that sweetness slowly disappears.

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