American Life in Poetry
The Poetry Foundation

Library of Congress

University of Nebraska
at Lincoln

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American Life in Poetry: Column 181


Stuart Kestenbaum, the author of this week’s poem, lost his brother Howard in the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. We thought it appropriate to commemorate the events of September 11, 2001, by sharing this poem. The poet is the director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts on Deer Isle, Maine.

Prayer for the Dead

The light snow started late last night and continued   
all night long while I slept and could hear it occasionally   
enter my sleep, where I dreamed my brother   
was alive again and possessing the beauty of youth, aware   
that he would be leaving again shortly and that is the lesson   
of the snow falling and of the seeds of death that are in everything   
that is born: we are here for a moment   
of a story that is longer than all of us and few of us   
remember, the wind is blowing out of someplace   
we don’t know, and each moment contains rhythms   
within rhythms, and if you discover some old piece   
of your own writing, or an old photograph,   
you may not remember that it was you and even if it was once you,   
it’s not you now, not this moment that the synapses fire   
and your hands move to cover your face in a gesture   
of grief and remembrance.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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. Poem copyright © 2007 by Stuart Kestenbaum. Reprinted from Prayers & Run-on Sentences, Deerbook Editions, 2007, by permission of Stuart Kestenbaum. Introduction copyright © 2016 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.


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