American Life in Poetry: Column 272


Whether we like it or not, we live with the awareness that death is always close at hand, and in this poem by Don Thompson, a Californian, a dead blackbird can’t be pushed out of the awareness of the speaker, nor can it escape the ants, who have their own yard work to do.

Yard Work

My leaf blower lifted the blackbird—
wings still spread, weightless,
floating on the loud, electric wind
almost as if it were alive.

Three or four times it flew,
but fell again, sideslipped down
like a kite with no string,
so I gave up. . . I had work to do,

and when the dust I raised
had settled in that other world
under the rose bushes, the ants
came back to finish theirs.

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 ©2009 by Don Thompson, and reprinted from his most recent book of poems, Where We Live, Parallel Press, 2009, by permission of Don Thompson and the publisher. 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.