American Life in Poetry: Column 023
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
In this fine poem about camping by Washington poet E. G. Burrows, vivid memories of the speaker's father, set down one after another, move gracefully toward speculation about how experiences cling to us despite any efforts to put them aside. And then, quite suddenly, the father is gone, forever. But life goes on, the coffee is hot, and the bird that opens the poem is still there at its close, singing for life.
I watched the nesting redstart
when we camped by Lake Winnepesaukee.
The tent pegs pulled out in soft soil.
Rain made pawprints on the canvas.
So much clings to the shoes,
the old shoes must be discarded,
but we're fools to think that does it:
burning the scraps.
I listened for the rain at Mt. Monadnock,
for the barred owl on a tent peak
among scrub pines in Michigan.
I can hear my father stir
and the cot creak. The flap opens.
He goes out and never returns
though the coffee steams on the grill
and the redstart sings in the alders.
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. Reprinted from Passager, 2001, by permission of the author. Copyright © 2001 by E. G. Burrows, whose most recent book is Sailing As Before, Devil's Millhopper Press, 2001. Introduction copyright © 2019 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.