American Life in Poetry: Column 121


A large white umbrella blown into the street, and an aproned waiter rushing to the rescue. A poem need not have a big subject, but what’s there does need to add up to more than the surface details. Notice the way this poem by Mike White of Utah moves beyond realistic description into another, deeper realm of suggestion.


Not a remarkable wind.
So when the bistro’s patio umbrella
blew suddenly free and pitched
into the middle of the road,
it put a stop to the afternoon.

Something white and amazing
was blocking the way.

A waiter in a clean apron
appeared, not quite
certain, shielding his eyes, wary
of our rumbling engines.

He knelt in the hot road,
making two figures in white, one
leaning over the sprawled,
broken shape of the other,
creaturely, great-winged,
and now so carefully gathered in.

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 © 2006 by Mike White. Reprinted from West Branch, No. 58, Spring/Summer 2006, with permission of the author. 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.