American Life in Poetry: Column 079

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

The news coverage of Hurricane Katrina gave America a vivid look at our poor and powerless neighbors. Here Alex Phillips of Massachusetts condenses his observations of our country’s underclass into a wise, tough little poem.

Work Shy

To be poor and raise skinny children.
To own nothing but skinny clothing.
Skinny food falls in between cracks.
Friends cannot visit your skinny home.
They cannot fit through the door.
Your skinny thoughts evaporate into
the day or the night that you cannot
see with your tiny eyes.

God sticks you with the smallest pins
and your blood, the red is diluted.
Imagine a tiny hole, the other side
of which is a fat world and how
lost you would feel. Of course,
I’m speaking to myself.
How lost I would feel, and how dangerous.


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. Reprinted from Under a Paper Trellis (Factory Hollow Press), by permission of 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.