American Life in Poetry: Column 706


I love this short poem, which collects a fried chicken bucket of all too many dreary details and dresses them out in graceful formal rhyme. It's by Matthew Buckley Smith, who lives in North Carolina, and is from the Fall, 2017, issue of Rattle, one of the best of the contemporary literary journals. His most recent book of poems is Dirge for an Imaginary World, published by Able Muse Press.


The place we lived was only an idea,
Nothing to do with the failed cotton mill town
Where a record shop, some bars, and a pizzeria
Were all we ever cared to call our own.
From nightmares of a happy life with kids
We'd wake in boozy sweat to find the floor
Still cobbled with bottle caps and take-out lids,
Our twenties crumpled safely in a drawer,
Unspent like all the hours ahead that night
We met each other in the common room
And found somehow without the help of light
Our way across the river by the time
Dawn spilled down from the campus to the banks
We'd come to, single, sobered-up again,
To see the morning glories give their thanks
For things we had, and hardly noticed, then.

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 ©2017 by Matthew Buckley Smith, "Undergrads," from Rattle, (No. 57, Fall, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Matthew Buckley Smith 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.