American Life in Poetry: Column 526

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I once attended a memorial service at which a friend’s ashes were put in the Platte River at first light, just as thousands of Sandhill Cranes were lifting off the water, crying. Flowing water has just what it takes to carry someone away in fine style. Here’s a poem by Kyle Harvey, who lives in Colorado.

Settler's Creek

You’d been gone four months by then,
but we brought you along anyway.

On my back, you rested
riding inside a wooden box.

The idea was to lay you gently
at the water’s surface,

but our clumsy hands spilled you,
and it was hard to tell whether you went head

or feet first, but it didn’t much matter
anyway, I suppose.

You would float on down the creek
until you had reached the next and so on.

My father gave a little wave and joked,
“We’ll see you back on down in Denver, Dad.”

We stood there in silence
listening to you chuckle

under the bridge and over
the first set of riffles downstream.


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 Kyle Harvey, “Settler’s Creek,” from Hyacinth (Lithic Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Kyle Harvey and Lithic 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.