American Life in Poetry: Column 507


For every one of those faces pictured on the obituary page, thousands of memories have been swept out of the world, never to be recovered. I encourage everyone to write down their memories before it’s too late. Here’s a fine example of that by Margaret Hasse, who lives in Minnesota.


Our high school principal wagged his finger
over two manila folders
lying on his desk, labeled with our names—
my boyfriend and me—
called to his office for skipping school.

The day before, we ditched Latin and world history
to chase shadows of clouds on a motorcycle.
We roared down rolling asphalt roads
through the Missouri River bottoms
beyond town, our heads emptied
of review tests and future plans.

We stopped on a dirt lane to hear
a meadowlark’s liquid song, smell
heart-break blossom of wild plum.
Beyond leaning fence posts and barbwire,
a tractor drew straight lines across the field
unfurling its cape of blackbirds.

Now forty years after that geography lesson
in spring, I remember the principal’s words.
How right he was in saying:
This will be part of
your permanent record.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Margaret Hasse, from her most recent book of poems, Earth’s Appetite, Nodin Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Margaret Hasse and the publisher. 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.