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Wednesday, June 25, 2008 07:04 am

People's poetry

Jacqueline Jackson presents

Untitled Document backthenpoem #3            

my grandpa wrote my dad
and uncle when they were
away from the farm at
phantom lake y camp he said
my dear boys I am missing you
greatly not alone because of
your help with the work but
it is lonesome without you
do you know that story of
the lad who had been away
from home a few days and
felt it was years and remarked
well I see you still have the
same old cat things will be much
the same when you return we
will have the same old cat

© Jacqueline Jackson 2008

So often, reading a poem can in itself feel like a thing overheard. Here, Mary-Sherman Willis of Virginia describes the feeling of being stilled by conversation, in this case barely audible and nearly indecipherable.
The Laughter of Women
From over the wall I could hear the laughter      of women in a foreign tongue, in the sun-rinsed air      of the city. They sat (so I thought) perfumed in their hats      and their silks,
in chairs on the grass amid flowers glowing      and swaying. One spoke and the others rang like bells,      oh so witty, like bells till the sound filled up the      garden and lifted
like bubbles spilling over the bricks that      enclosed them, their happiness holding them, even if just for      the moment. Although I did not understand a word they      were saying,
their sound surrounded me, fell on my      shoulders and hair, and burst on my cheeks like kisses, and      continued to fall, holding me there where I stood on the       sidewalk listening.
As I could not move, I had to hear them      grow silent, and adjust myself to the clouds and the      cooling air. The mumble of thunder rumbled out of      the wall and the smacking of drops as the rain fell      everywhere.
Poem copyright © 2007 by Mary-Sherman Willis. Reprinted from The Hudson Review (Vol. LX, no. 3, Autumn 2007). American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Ted Kooser served as the U.S. poet laureate 2004-2006. For more information, go to