American Life in Poetry: Column 632


I recently had the privilege of editing Connie Wanek's Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems,for the University of Nebraska Press. I had been in Duluth a number of years ago, and the following poem, now included in that book, is one that I heard her read while I was there. Since that day I have been a devoted fan of her magical, playful, resonant poetry.


When I push your button
you fly off the handle,
old skin and bones,
black bat wing.

We're alike, you and I.
Both of us
resemble my mother,
so fierce in her advocacy

on behalf of
the most vulnerable child
who'll catch his death
in this tempest.

Such a headwind!
Sometimes it requires
all my strength
just to end a line.

But when the wind is at
my back, we're likely
to get carried away, and say
something we can never retract,

something saturated from the ribs
down, an old stony
word like ruin. You're what roof
I have, frail thing,

you're my argument
against the whole sky.
You're the fundamental difference
between wet and dry.

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 ©2010 by Connie Wanek, “Umbrella,” from Rival Gardens: New and Selected Poems, (University of Nebraska Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Connie Wanek 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.