American Life in Poetry: Column 174


I’d guess you’ve all seen a toddler hold something over the edge of a high-chair and then let it drop, just for the fun of it. Here’s a lovely picture of a small child learning the laws of physics. The poet, Joelle Biele, lives in Maryland.

To Katharine: At Fourteen Months

All morning, you’ve studied the laws   
of spoons, the rules of books, the dynamics   
of the occasional plate, observed the principles   
governing objects in motion and objects   
at rest.  To see if it will fall, and if it does,   
how far, if it will rage like a lost penny   
or ring like a Chinese gong—because   
it doesn’t have to—you lean from your chair   
and hold your cup over the floor.   
It curves in your hand, it weighs in your palm,   
it arches like a wave, it is a dipper   
full of stars, and you’re the wind timing   
the pull of the moon, you’re the water   
measuring the distance from which we fall.

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 Joelle Biele, whose most recent book of poetry is White Summer, Southern Illinois University Press, 2002. Poem reprinted from West Branch, Fall/Winter, 2007, by permission of Joelle Biele. Introduction copyright © 2020 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.