American Life in Poetry: Column 690
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
James Crews, who lives in Vermont, was for two years our assistant at American Life in Poetry. A fine poet in his own right, he has just published a new book, Telling My Father, the winner of the 2017 Cowles Poetry Prize from Southeast Missouri State University Press.
Though the doctors said no salt,
salt was all my father craved.
His body bloated, skin water-logged
and gray, still he wanted potato chips,
honey-baked ham, greasy slabs
of Polish sausage from Piekutowski's.
He begged for pepperoni pizza,
garlic butter, ribs slathered in sauce.
But when I did the shopping,
I searched only for labels that said
low sodium and no preservatives, instead
bringing home heads of broccoli,
turkey burgers, shredded wheat.
And when he died anyway,
guilt gnawed me like an ulcer—
how could I have denied him
his few final pleasures?—
until I found Big Mac wrappers
stuffed under the car seat,
jars of pickles in the hall closet,
and hidden among wads of tissues
near the night stand, his stash—
a half-used canister of salt.
I sat down on his sagging mattress
now stripped of stained sheets
and studied that blue label
with the girl in the yellow dress
holding her umbrella against a rain
of salt still falling from the sky.
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 James Crews, "Strict Diet," from Telling My Father, (Southeast Missouri State Univ. Press, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of James Crews 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.