American Life in Poetry: Column 564


I love this poem by Mandy Kahn for its witty account of the way two young people find each other. The poet lives in Los Angeles and this is from her book Math, Heaven, Time, from Eyewear Publishing.

At the Dorm

Week upon week at the dorm she watched him
working at a table with a pencil in his teeth,
eating with a stack of books and papers,
reading while he walked. His hair was
groups of angry men, his sweaty cuffs were wrinkled
at his forearms: he seemed to be loved by no one.
But always there were pairs of houseflies
hovering above him, landing on his nest of notes,
trailing him as if with streamers and sound.
A farm girl, she knew to follow the flies:
they'll take you to the milk just pulled to the pail,
to the cow's haunch where the meat will one day be sweetest,
the swelled pond, the unlatched gate. Everything,
she knew, was in those notebooks
he would carry: her future, the distances of islands, poles
and stars, the reason for the network of men's follies,
how to spend the night.

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 ©2014 by Mandy Kahn, “At the Dorm,” from Math, Heaven, Time, (Eyewear Publishing, 2014). Poem reprinted by permission of Mandy Kahn 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.