American Life in Poetry: Column 481

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

One of the wonders of poetry is a good poet’s ability to compress a great deal of life into a few words. Here’s a life story told small, by Ivan Hobson, who lives in California.

Our Neighbor:

Every family that lived in our court
had an American truck
with a union sticker on the back

and as a kid I admired them
the way I thought our soldiers
must have admired Patton
and Sherman tanks.

You once told me
that the Russians couldn’t take us,
not with towns like ours
full of iron, full of workers tempered
by the fires of foundries and mills.

It wasn’t the Russians that came;
it was the contract, the strike,
the rounds of layoffs that blistered
until your number was called.

I still remember you loading up
to leave for the last time,
the union sticker scraped off
with a putty knife,

the end of the white tarp draped
over your truck bed
flapping as you drove away.


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 ©2013 by Ivan Hobson. Poem reprinted from Plainsongs, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, Spring 2013, by permission of Ivan Hobson 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.