American Life in Poetry: Column 130


A number of American poets are adept at describing places and the people who inhabit them. Galway Kinnell’s great poem, “The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World” is one of those masterpieces, and there are many others. Here Anne Pierson Wiese, winner of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, adds to that tradition.

Columbus Park

Down at the end of Baxter Street, where Five Points   
slum used to be, just north of Tombs, is a pocket park.   
On these summer days the green plane trees’ leaves   
linger heavy as a noon mist above   
the men playing mah jongg—more Chinese   
in the air than English.  The city’s composed   
of village greens; we rely on the Thai   
place on the corner: Tom Kha for a cold,   
jasmine tea for fever, squid for love, Duck Yum   
for loneliness.  Outside, the grove of heat,   
narrow streets where people wrestle rash and unseen   
angels; inside, the coolness of a glen and the wait staff   
in their pale blue collars offering ice water.   
Whatever you’ve done or undone, there’s a dish for you   
to take out or eat in: spice for courage, sweet for chagrin.   

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 © 2003 by Anne Pierson Wiese. Reprinted from Floating City, by Anne Pierson Wiese, published by Louisiana State University Press, 2007, with the permission of the author and publisher. Poem first published in West Branch. 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.