American Life in Poetry: Column 005

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Though many of us were taught that poems have hidden meanings that must be discovered and pried out like the meat from walnuts, a poem is not a puzzle, but an experience. Here David Baker makes a gift to us through his deft description of an ordinary scene. Reading, we accept the experience of a poem and make it a part of our lives, just as we would take in the look of a mountain we passed on a trip. The poet's use of the words "we" and "neighbors" subtly underline the fact that all of us are members of the human community, much alike, facing the changing seasons together.

Neighbors in October

All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon
with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting
chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke.
Down the block we bend with the season:
shoes to polish for a big game,
storm windows to batten or patch.
And how like a field is the whole sky now
that the maples have shed their leaves, too.
It makes us believers—stationed in groups,
leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters
over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone,
bagging gold for the cold days to come.


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. David Baker's "Neighbors in October" is reprinted from The Truth about Small Towns, by permission of University of Arkansas Press, 1998. 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.