American Life in Poetry: Column 426

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Laura Dimmit is from Joplin, Missouri, and her family survived the fierce tornado of May, 2011. The entire area was strewn with debris, and here’s a poem about just one little piece that fell from the sky.

School photo, found after the Joplin tornado

                                             “Joey, 4th grade, 1992”


He’s been on the fridge since it happened,
sneaking glances from underneath the cat
magnet at our dinners, coffee habits, arguments.
We posted him on the database of items found,
hoping that someone would recognize his messy
hair, Batman t-shirt, blue eyes, but no one
answered the post or claimed him.
Somewhere a childhood photo album is not
quite complete, or a grandmother’s mantelpiece;
an uncle’s wallet. One afternoon I got restless,
flipped through my old yearbooks, trying to find him,
looking to see how he might have aged: did he lose
the chubby cheeks? dye his hair? how long
did he have to wear braces? But he’s too young
to have passed me in the halls, the picture just
a stranger, a small reminder of the whirling aftermath
when Joplin was clutching at scraps: everything displaced,
even this poor kid who doesn’t even know he’s lost.

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 ©2012 by Laura Dimmit, and reprinted by permission of the poet. 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.