American Life in Poetry: Column 620


All too often poets shun simple, direct, and earthy words like "tea" in favor of others that sound more sophisticated, like Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong. But fancy words put experience at a greater distance. Here's a delightful poem by Jack Cooper, who lives in Los Angeles, and it depends for part of its effect on words like "goofy" and "waddle." Our experience of the poem is all the more "real" thanks to those words. Jack Cooper's most recent book of poetry is Across My Silence (World Audience Publishers, 2007).

L.A. River

I like how the mallard ducklings
goofy and weak
waddle up the cement incline
then slide into this runoff
of lawn sprinklers and car washes
and how the great blue heron
seems to be teleported here
from the Jurassic
to look for extinct species of fish
but mostly I like the way
the little birds
fly in and out of the barbed wire
with only a smear of water
to keep them singing.

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© 2016 by Jack Cooper, “L.A. River,” from Rattle, (No. 52, Summer 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Jack Cooper 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.