American Life in Poetry: Column 134


When ancient people gathered around the fire at nightfall, I like to think that they told stories, about where each of them had been that day, and what that person had seen in the forest. Those were among our first stories, and we still venture into the world and return to tell others what happened. It’s part of community. Here Kathleen Flenniken of Washington tells us about a woman she saw at an airport.

Old Woman With Protea Flowers, Kahalui Airport

She wears the run-down slippers of a local
and in her arms, five rare protea
wrapped in newsprint, big as digger pine cones.
Our hands can’t help it and she lets us touch.
Her brother grows them for her, upcountry.
She’s spending the day on Oahu
with her flowers and her dogs.   Protea
for four dogs’ graves, two for her favorite.
She’ll sit with him into the afternoon
and watch the ocean from Koolau.
An old woman’s paradise, she tells us,
and pets the flowers’ soft, pink ears.

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 �© 2007 by Kathleen Flenniken, whose most recent book of poetry is “Famous,” University of Nebraska Press, 2006. Poem reprinted by 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.