American Life in Poetry: Column 638


Kelly Madigan lives in Nebraska and this poem is from her book, The Edge of Known Things, from Stephen F. Austin University Press. Did you think that you were all that different from a porcupine? Well, poetry reaches for and seizes upon connections, and here's an example of that.


You think we are the pointed argument,
the man drunk at the party showing off
his gun collection, the bed of nettles.
What we really are is hidden from you:
girl weeping in the closet among her stepfather's boots;
tuft of rabbit fur caught in barbed wire; body of the baby
in the landfill; boy with the shy mouth playing his guitar
at the picnic table, out in the dirt yard.
We slide into this world benign and pliable,
quills pressed down smooth over back and tail.
Only one hour here stiffens the barbs into thousands
of quick retorts. Everything this well-guarded
remembers being soft once.

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 ©2013 by Kelly Madigan, “Porcupine,” from The Edge of Known Things, (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Kelly Madigan 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.