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American Life in Poetry: Column 444

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Our sense of smell is, as you know, not nearly as good as that of our dogs, but it can still affect us powerfully. A good writer, like Tami Haaland of Billings, Montana, can show us how a single odor can sweep us back through time.

A Colander of Barley

The smell, once water has rinsed it,
is like a field of ripe grain, or the grain held
in a truck, and if you climb the steel side,
one foot lodged on the hubcap, the other
on the wheel, and pull your body upward,
your hands holding to tarp hooks, and lift toes
onto the rim of the truck box, rest your ribs
against the side, you will see beetles
and grasshoppers among the hulled kernels.
Water stirs and resurrects harvest dust:
sun beating on abundance, the moist heat
of grain collected in steel, hands
plunging and lifting, the grain spilling back.

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. “A Colander of Barley” from When We Wake in the Night by Tami Haaland, ©2012 WordTech Editions, Cincinnati, Ohio. Poem reprinted by permission of Tami Haaland 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.

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