American Life in Poetry
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American Life in Poetry: Column 454

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I once wrote a not-so-very-good poem called “Picking Up After the Dead,” about the putting-in-order we feel compelled to do when a family member has passed on. In this poem Sherod Santos, who lives in Chicago, writes what I wished I could have written.

Out of the World There Passed a Soul

The day of my mother’s funeral I spend clearing out
her overgrown flower beds, down on my knees
in the leaf rot, nut shells, tiny grains of sandlot sand
spilling from the runoff gullies. The hot work was to see
not feel what had to be done, not to go on asking,
not to wonder anymore. Full from scraps I’d found
at the back of the refrigerator, her mongrel dog
lay curled on a stone and watched me work.
It was Sunday. The telephone rang, then stopped,
then rang again. By the end of the day, I’d done
what I could. I swept the walk, put away the tools,
switched on the indoor safety lamps, and then
(it hardly matters what I think I felt) I closed
the gate on a house where no one lived anymore.

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 ©2012 by Sherod Santos, whose most recent book of poems is The Intricated Soul: New and Selected Poems, W. W. Norton & Co., 2010. Poem reprinted from The Kenyon Review, Vol. XXXIV, no. 4, by permission of Sherod Santos 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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