American Life in Poetry: Column 308

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Connie Wanek is one of my favorite poets. She lives in Duluth and has a keen eye for what goes on around her. Here’s a locked and loaded scene from rural America.

Mysterious Neighbors

Country people rise early
as their distant lights testify.
They don’t hold water in common. Each house
has a personal source, like a bank account,
a stone vault. Some share eggs,
some share expertise,
and some won’t even wave.
A walk for the mail elevates the heart rate.
Last November I saw a woman down the road
walk out to her mailbox dressed in blaze orange
cap to boot, a cautious soul.
Bullets can’t read her No Trespassing sign.
Strange to think they’re in the air
like lead bees with a fatal sting.
Our neighbor across the road sits in his kitchen
with his rifle handy and the window open.
You never know when. Once
he shot a trophy with his barrel resting on the sill.
He’s in his seventies, born here, joined the Navy,
came back. Hard work never hurt a man
until suddenly he was another broken tool.
His silhouette against the dawn
droops as though drought-stricken, each step
deliberate, down the driveway to his black mailbox,
prying it open. Checking a trap.


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 ©2010 by Connie Wanek whose most recent book of poetry is On Speaking Terms, Copper Canyon Press, 2010. Reprinted from New Ohio Review, No. 7, Spring 2010, by permission of Connie Wanek and the publisher. 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.