American Life in Poetry: Column 002

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Many of us have felt helpless when we've tried to assist friends who are dealing with the deaths of loved ones. Here the Kentucky poet and publisher, Jonathan Greene, conveys that feeling of inadequacy in a single sentence. The brevity of the poem reflects the measured and halting speech of people attempting to offer words of condolence:

At the Grave

As Death often
sidelines us

it is good
to contribute

even if so little
as to shovel

some earth
into earth.



We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 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. Copyright © 2003 by Jonathan Greene. Reprinted by permission of the author. Introduction copyright © 2017 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.