American Life in Poetry: Column 171


Sometimes I think that people are at their happiest when they’re engaged in activities close to the work of the earliest humans: telling stories around a fire, taking care of children, hunting, making clothes. Here an Iowan, Ann Struthers, speaks of one of those original tasks, digging in the dirt.

Planting the Sand Cherry

Today I planted the sand cherry with red leaves—
and hope that I can go on digging in this yard,
pruning the grape vine, twisting the silver lace
on its trellis, the one that bloomed
just before the frost flowered over all the garden.
Next spring I will plant more zinnias, marigolds,
straw flowers, pearly everlasting, and bleeding heart.
I plant that for you, old love, old friend,
and lilacs for remembering.   The lily-of-the-valley   
with cream-colored bells, bent over slightly, bowing
to the inevitable, flowers for a few days, a week.
Now its broad blade leaves are streaked with brown
and the stem dried to a pale hair.
In place of the silent bells, red berries
like rose hips blaze close to the ground.
It is important for me to be down on my knees,
my fingers sifting the black earth,
making those things grow which will grow.
Sometimes I save a weed if its leaves
are spread fern-like, hand-like,
or if it grows with a certain impertinence.
I let the goldenrod stay and the wild asters.
I save the violets in spring.   People who kill violets
will do anything.

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 © 2004 by Ann Struthers, whose most recent book of poetry is “What You Try To Tame,” The Coe Review Press, 2004. Poem reprinted from “Stoneboat & Other Poems,” by Ann Struthers, Iowa Poets Series, The Pterodactyl Press, 1988, by permission of the writer. 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.