American Life in Poetry

The workings of memory are something that every writer thinks a lot about, and in this poem Peter Everwine, a California poet we’ve featured before, looks very closely into those workings. His most recent book is “Listening Long and Late,” from the University of Pittsburgh Press. This poem is from Five Points, a distinguished quarterly journal.

A Small Story

When Mrs. McCausland comes to mind

she slips through a small gap in oblivion

and walks down her front steps, in her hand

a small red velvet pillow she tucks

under the head of Old Jim Schreiber,

who is lying dead-drunk against the curb

of busy Market Street. Then she turns,

labors up the steps and is gone . . .

A small story. Or rather, the memory

of a story I heard as a boy. The witnesses

are not to be found, the steps lead nowhere,

the pillow has collapsed into a thread of dust . . .

Do the dead come back only to remind us

they, too, were once among the living,

and that the story we make of our lives

is a mystery of luminous, but uncertain moments,

a shuffle of images we carry toward sleep –

Mrs. McCausland with her velvet pillow,

Old Jim at peace-a story, like a small

clearing in the woods at night, seen

from the windows of a passing train.

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

Travel can sharpen our awareness, can keep us on the alert, and here’s a poem by Patricia Traxler from her new book “Naming the Fires, from Hanging Loose Press.” Traxler lives in Salina, Kansas.

Last Hike Before Leaving Montana

Late winter, almost spring. It’s like finding a diamond;

now I don’t want to leave. I sit in the dirt and put my hands

in your tracks. For the first time in a long time I don’t

doubt. Now I know I always knew you were here. You

are the beginning of disclosure, the long-felt presence

Suddenly incarnate. Behind me my friend warns, If we

see the bear, get into a fetal position. No problem,

I tell her, I’m always in a fetal position-I was born

in a fetal position. Did you know, she says, the body

of a shaved bear looks exactly like a human man?

I skip a stone, feel a sudden bloat of grief, then laugh.

I ask her, Who would shave a bear? We climb

Farther up Rattlesnake Creek, watch winter sun glitter

off dark water. No matter how high we go I look higher.

Sometimes absence can prove presence. That’s not exactly

faith, I know. All day, everywhere, I feel you near at hand.

There’s so much to understand, and everything to prove.

Up high the air is thin and hard, roars in the ears like love.

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

Barbara Crooker, who lives in Pennsylvania, has become one of this column’s favorite poets. We try to publish work that a broad audience of readers can understand and, we hope, may be moved by, and this particular writer is very good at that. Here’s an example from her collection, “Gold,” from Cascade Books.

Grief

is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.

But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting

around my ankles, moving downstream

over the flat rocks. I’m not able to lift a foot,

move on. Instead, I’m going to stay here

in the shallows with my sorrow, nurture it

like a cranky baby, rock it in my arms.

I don’t want it to grow up, go to school, get married.

It’s mine. Yes, the October sunlight wraps me

in its yellow shawl, and the air is sweet

as a golden Tokay. On the other side,

there are apples, grapes, walnuts,

and the rocks are warm from the sun.

But I’m going to stand here,

growing colder, until every inch

of my skin is numb. I can’t cross over.

Then you really will be gone.

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.