We are never more rooted
in this big universe than
when our eyes sting and
our heads hang heavy for loss.
When we, a procession of sun
glasses, watch, shifting feet,
as life disappears back into
those thick familiar arms.
Our backs, clothed in black,
savor warmth, unaware that
we are at once joyful and empty,
and crying for ourselves
mirrored in the lowering. How
we know deeply: absence
of something weighs more than
substance, and we fiercely hold on.
the first time i slept with him,
that sleep unafraid, mouth open,
not worried about drool or how my
cheeks fold and stack unattractive, i
felt like i had stepped out of
my skin, unzipped, truly naked
for the first time, thinking you’ve
never seen me before until now, you’ve
never realized how i would
lie awake waiting until your breath
cascaded slower, until your own
mouth fell aside, your soft snore my
signal: all clear to close your eyes.
America’s greatest living poet dines
on over-easy eggs and over-done hash browns across from a Sir
Lawrence platinum fryer in Jimmy’s, the greasy spoon of
Fells Point, that swinging port of Baltimore’s finest,
and, in conversing with a Miami homicide
detective turned Carnival cruise PI at the
linoleum counter, our poet appraises an outdated
gold watch, a gambler’s smile pressed in brown eyes,
stories of overboard spouses, matter of fact, drowning like
French toast smothered in syrup; cooks in whites and blacks
short on order, hustling. People lined up, an endless
bristling behind the counter seats; a rich tango of waitresses, plates,
hungry red mouths. Everything a sizzling sound.
More eggs stacked high in cartons. Our poet hears one man yell
“It’s Free!” to no one and all. Everything is in butter. Everything
is dazzling – ready to be snatched up and sold.
(Written in 2016 in the old Jimmy’s Diner in Fells Point, Baltimore, MD)
Like a king confined
by a future of shackles, i sit in my
big chair and listen, and grieve.
i am burying my brother.
i am burying my child. it matters not,
as i think only of me.
light fades, tightens its grip.
time is my best friend
who accepts such lonely things.
Enjoy Robert’s gorgeous poem of that first snow in October, the harbinger of what’s to come…. Taken from Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry.
Welcome to American Life in Poetry. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.
American Life in Poetry: Column 498
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Here’s a lovely poem for this lovely month, by Robert Haight, who lives in Michigan.
Early October Snow
It will not stay.
But this morning we wake to pale muslin
stretched across the grass.
The pumpkins, still in the fields, are planets
shrouded by clouds.
The Weber wears a dunce cap
and sits in the corner by the garage
where asters wrap scarves
around their necks to warm their blooms.
The leaves, still soldered to their branches
by a frozen drop of dew, splash
apple and pear paint along the roadsides.
It seems we have glanced out a window
into the near future, mid-December, say,
the black and white photo of winter
carefully laid over the present autumn,
like a morning we pause at the mirror
inspecting the single strand of hair
that overnight has turned to snow.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Robert Haight from his most recent book of poems, Feeding Wild Birds, Mayapple Press, 2013. (Lines two and six are variations of lines by Herb Scott and John Woods.) Poem reprinted by permission of Robert Haight and the publisher. 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
American Life in Poetry provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry: American Life in Poetry seeks to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. There are no costs for reprinting the columns; we do require that you register your publication here and that the text of the column be reproduced without alteration.
a burning sky dies over me,
sighs over me, extinguishes
like a lit match
blown softly unconscious.
fingers flaming pass out
into wispy smoke, clouds that once burned
hot slowly rust,
i watch them turn pyroclastic dark,
they turn against me –
an encroaching cloak of emptiness. i watch this death
a hungry voyeur. i listen though
nothing, nothing remains
save a sliver of a moon croaking awake, and black silhouettes
of trees and city rowhome skeletons whispering,
you always leave, you always do
but the gold is worth it for one brief hour,
that one small time our eyes got big
and drank colors possible only in dreams.
in the dark spaces
i went looking for the smoke.
Thought i glimpsed it
around the dust gathering on the third stair,
followed it past open windows,
chased it through the kitchen, a hallway
filled with secret light,
i went searching high,
low, i found nothing.
Felt my way in the early dark to the deck to see a
skyline city far away, no avail. Went looking to the east
and there! I saw a ghost of myself
jumping free into dense air,
she seemed convinced of one thing.