American Life in Poetry: Column 154

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Here, poet Yusef Komunyakaa, who teaches at New York University, shows us a fine portrait of the hard life of a worker—in this case, a horse—and, through metaphor, the terrible, clumsy beauty of his final moments.

Yellowjackets

When the plowblade struck   
An old stump hiding under   
The soil like a beggar’s   
Rotten tooth, they swarmed up   
& Mister Jackson left the plow   
Wedged like a whaler’s harpoon.   
The horse was midnight   
Against dusk, tethered to somebody’s   
Pocketwatch.  He shivered, but not   
The way women shook their heads   
Before mirrors at the five   
& dime—a deeper connection   
To the low field’s evening star.   
He stood there, in tracechains,   
Lathered in froth, just   
Stopped by a great, goofy   
Calmness.  He whinnied   
Once, & then the whole   
Beautiful, blue-black sky   
Fell on his back.


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 ©2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa, reprinted from “Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999,” Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2001, by permission. 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.