American Life in Poetry: Column 669


Poems that move back and forth through time can be intriguing. In this poem by Pat Schneider, she looks deep into the past and evokes it in compelling detail, though the poem speculates that there will arrive a future in which this particular moment in the past is all but forgotten. Yet it's vividly remembered, in that same future, which is now. Schneider lives in Massachusetts and this is from her book Another River: New and Selected Poems, from Amherst Writers & Artists Press.

From where I stand

at the third floor window of the tenement,
the street looks shiny.
It has been washed and rinsed by rain.
Beyond the silver streaks of the streetcar tracks
a single streetlight stands
in a pool of wet light. It is night.
St. Louis. Nineteen forty-seven.
I have just come home from the orphanage
to stay.

Years later, I will be another person.
I will almost not remember this summerónot
at all. But for nowówith the streetlight
reflecting an aura on the wet sidewalk,
with dark behind me in the dirty
two rooms we call home,

for now, I see it all.

Tomorrow I will begin to try to forget.
But in this moment everything is clear:
who I am, where I am, and the clean place
that I have left behind.
As clear as the streetlight: how distinct
its limits in the vast dark and the rain.

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 Pat Schneider from Another River: New & Selected Poems, (Amherst Writers & Artists Press, 2005). Poem reprinted by permission of Pat Schneider 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.