American Life in Poetry: Column 680
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Art criticism is notoriously fickle. Today's celebrated artist gets to be nobody soon. After suffering years of denigration, Norman Rockwell is now valued as a far more important artist than the critics had thought him only a few years ago. This poem by Terri Kirby Erickson, a North Carolinian, could have appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, and I mean that as a high compliment. It's from Erickson's book, Becoming the Blue Heron, from Press 53.
She could be a Norman Rockwell painting,
the small girl on my front porch with her eager
face, her wind-burned cheeks red as cherries.
Her father waits by the curb, ready to rescue
his child should danger threaten, his shadow
reaching halfway across the yard. I take the
booklet from the girl's outstretched hand,
peruse the color photos of candy bars and
caramel-coated popcorn, pretend to read it.
I have no use for what she's selling, but I
can count the freckles on her nose, the scars
like fat worms on knobby knees that ought
to be covered on a cold day like this, when
the wind is blowing and the trees are losing
their grip on the last of their leaves. I'll take
two of these and one of those, I say, pointing,
thinking I won't eat them, but I probably will.
It's worth the coming calories to see her joy,
how hard she works to spell my name right,
taking down my information. Then she turns
and gives a thumbs-up sign to her father, who
grins like an outfielder to whom the ball has
finally come—his heart like a glove, opening.
We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Terri Kirby Erickson from Becoming the Blue Heron, (Press 53, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Terri Kirby Erickson 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.