American Life in Poetry: Column 056

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

When I complained about some of the tedious jobs I had as a boy, my mother would tell me, Ted, all work is honorable. In this poem, Don Welch gives us a man who’s been fixing barbed wire fences all his life.

At the Edge of Town

Hard to know which is more gnarled,
the posts he hammers staples into
or the blue hummocks which run
across his hands like molehills.

Work has reduced his wrists
to bones, cut out of him
the easy flesh and brought him
down to this, the crowbar’s teeth

caught just behind a barb.
Again this morning
the crowbar’s neck will make
its blue slip into wood,

there will be that moment
when too much strength
will cause the wire to break.
But even at 70, he says,

he has to have it right,
and more than right.
This morning, in the pewter light,
he has the scars to prove it.


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. From Gutter Flowers, Logan House, 2005. Copyright © 2005 by Don Welch and reprinted by permission of Logan House and the author. Introduction copyright © 2018 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.