American Life in Poetry: Column 116

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

It’s the oldest kind of story: somebody ventures deep into the woods and comes back with a tale. Here Roy Jacobstein returns to America to relate his experience on a safari to the place believed by archaeologists to be the original site of human life. And against this ancient backdrop he closes with a suggestion of the brevity of our lives.

Safari, Rift Valley

Minutes ago those quick cleft hoofs
lifted the dik-dik’s speckled frame.
Now the cheetah dips her delicate head
to the still-pulsating guts. Our Rover’s
so close we need no zoom to fix the green
shot of her eyes, the matted red mess
of her face. You come here, recall a father
hale in his ordinary life, not his last bed,
not the long tasteless slide of tapioca.
This is the Great Rift, where it all began,
here where the warthogs and hartebeest
feed in the scrub, giraffes splay to drink,
and our rank diesel exhaust darkens the air
for only a few moments before vanishing.


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. Poem copyright © 2006 by Roy Jacobstein, whose most recent book is “A Form of Optimism,” University Press of New England, 2006. Reprinted by permission of the author. Introduction copyright © 2016 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.