American Life in Poetry: Column 315


We who teach creative writing have been known to tell our students that there is no subject so common and ordinary that it can’t be addressed in a poem, and this one, by Michael McFee, who lives in North Carolina, is a good example of that.


Little paper cuds we made
by ripping the corners or edges
from homework and class notes
then ruminating them into balls
we’d flick from our fingertips
or catapult with pencils
or (sometimes after lunch)
launch through striped straws
like deadly projectiles
toward the necks of enemies
and any other target where they’d
stick with the tiniest splat,
I hope you’re still there,
stuck to unreachable ceilings
like the beginnings of nests
by generations of wasps
too ignorant to finish them
or under desktops with blunt
stalactites of chewing gum,
little white words we learned
to shape and hold in our mouths
while waiting to let them fly,
our most tenacious utterance.

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 ©2005 by Michael McFee, whose most recent book of poetry is The Smallest Talk, Bull City Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from Shinemaster, Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press, 2006, by permission of Michael McFee and the publisher. 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.