American Life in Poetry

Nick Norwood’s most recent book is “Gravel and Hawk,” published by Ohio University Press. This poem has sorrow at the top and happiness at the bottom, which means there’s a lot of living in between. It’s from the quarterly journal Five Points. Norwood lives and teaches in Georgia.

Ronnie’s

Dad dead, Mom – back in the bank, tellering –

started dressing in cute skirts and pants suits

she sewed herself from onionskin patterns

and bright-colored knits picked up at Cloth World.

Got her dark brunette hair cut in a shag.

And she and her single girlfriends from work

on a weekday night would leave me to “Love

American Style” or Mary Tyler Moore

and step out to hear the country house band

or now-and-then headliners like Ray Price

and Merle Haggard. Mom’s blue Buick Wildcat

shoulder to shoulder with the other Detroit

behemoths in the dim lot around back.

Wind skittering trash along the street. Bass

notes thumping through the sheet-metal walls

and the full swinging sound suddenly blaring

when a couple came in or out the door.

I know because I’m there, now, in the lot,

crouched behind the fender of a Skylark

or Riviera, in the weird green glow

of the rooftop Ronnie’s sign, not keeping tabs

on Mom, not watching out, just keeping time

with the band and sipping a Slurpee

while she dances through this two-year window

before getting re-hitched, settling back down.

Just twenty-seven, twenty-eight years old,

looking pretty, having the time of her life.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It also is supported by the department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Introduction copyright 2014 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. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.

American Life in Poetry

Here’s a poem by Debra Nystrom about what it feels like to be a schoolgirl in rural America. No loud laughter echoing in the shopping mall for these young women. The poet lives in Virginia and this is from her book, “Night Sky Frequencies,” from Sheep Meadow Press.

Restless After School

Nothing to do but scuff down

the graveyard road behind the playground,

past the name-stones lined up in rows

beneath their guardian pines,

on out into the long, low waves of plains

that dissolved time. We’d angle off

from fence and telephone line, through

ribbon-grass that closed behind as though

we’d never been, and drift toward the bluff

above the river-bend where the junked pickup

moored with its load of locust-skeletons.

Stretched across the blistered hood, we let

our dresses catch the wind while clouds above

dimmed their pink to purple, then shadow-blue –

So slow, we listened to our own bones grow.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It also is supported by the department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Introduction copyright 2014 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. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.

American Life in Poetry

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.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It also is supported by the department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Introduction copyright 2014 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. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.

American Life in Poetry

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.

Curtains

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.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It also is supported by the department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Introduction copyright 2014 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. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.