American Life in Poetry: Column 522

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Poetry is a good way to capture epiphanies, and this poem by Penny Harter does just that. Harter lives and teaches in New Jersey.

In the Dark

At bedtime, my grandson’s breath
rasps in and out of fragile lungs.
Holding the nebulizer mask
over his nose and mouth,
I rock him on my lap and hum
a lullaby to comfort him.

The nebulizer hisses as steroids
stream into his struggling chest,
and suddenly he also starts to hum,
his infant voice rising and falling
on the same few notes—some hymn
he must have learned while in the womb
or carried here from where he was before—
a kind of plainsong, holy and hypnotic
in the dark.


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 Penny Harter, “In the Dark,” from The Resonance Around Us (Mountains and Rivers Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Penny Harter and Mountains and Rivers Press. 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.