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American Life in Poetry: Column 433

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Here’s an observant and thoughtful poem by Lisel Mueller about the way we’ve assigned human characteristics to the inanimate things about us. Mueller lives in Illinois and is one of our most distinguished poets.

Things

What happened is, we grew lonely
living among the things,
so we gave the clock a face,
the chair a back,
the table four stout legs
which will never suffer fatigue.

We fitted our shoes with tongues
as smooth as our own
and hung tongues inside bells
so we could listen
to their emotional language,

and because we loved graceful profiles
the pitcher received a lip,
the bottle a long, slender neck.

Even what was beyond us
was recast in our image;
we gave the country a heart,
the storm an eye,
the cave a mouth
so we could pass into safety.

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. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press from <em>Alive Together</em> by Lisel Mueller. Copyright ©1996 by Lisel Mueller. 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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