American Life in Poetry
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American Life in Poetry: Column 132

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Children at play give personalities to lifeless objects, and we don’t need to give up that pleasure as we grow older. Poets are good at discerning life within what otherwise might seem lifeless. Here the poet Peter Pereira, a family physician in the Seattle area, contemplates a smiling statue, and in that moment of contemplation the smile is given by the statue to the man.


The Garden Buddha

Gift of a friend, the stone Buddha sits zazen,   
prayer beads clutched in his chubby fingers.   
Through snow, icy rain, the riot of spring flowers,   
he gazes forward to the city in the distance—always   

the same bountiful smile upon his portly face.   
Why don’t I share his one-minded happiness?   
The pear blossom, the crimson-petaled magnolia,   
filling me instead with a mixture of nostalgia   

and yearning.  He’s laughing at me, isn’t he?   
The seasons wheeling despite my photographs   
and notes, my desire to make them pause.   
Is that the lesson?  That stasis, this holding on,   

is not life?  Now I’m smiling, too—the late cherry,   
its soft pink blossoms already beginning to scatter;   
the trillium, its three-petaled white flowers   
exquisitely tinged with purple as they fall.   


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 © 2007 by Peter Pereira. Reprinted from What’s Written on the Body by Peter Pereira, Copper Canyon Press, 2007, by permission of the author and 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.

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