American Life in Poetry: Column 707

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Peter Schmitt is a Floridian, and the following poem is from his book, Renewing the Vows, published by David Robert Books. Poetry seems to be the perfect medium for brief anecdotal stories, but most of us have higher expectations of a poem, believing it should reach beneath the surface and draw up something from the deeper parts of experience. This is just such a poem.

The Bench

It's all like a bad riddle, our widow friend
said at the time.  If a tree falls in the woods
and kills your husband, what can you build from it?
That she was speaking quite literally
we did not know until the day months later
the bench arrived, filling that foyer space
in the house the neighbors pitched in to finish.
 
She'd done it, she said, for the sake of the boys,
and was never more sure of her purpose
than when they were off, playing in the woods
their father loved, somewhere out of earshot
and she would be struggling in with groceries.
For her, it was mostly a place to rest
such a weight, where other arms might have reached
 
to lift what they could.  Or like the time we knocked
at her door, and finding it just ajar,
cautiously entered the sunstruck hallway,
and saw her sitting there staring into space,
before she heard our steps and caught herself,
turning smiling toward us, a book left
lying open on the bench beside her.

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 ©2007 by Peter Schmitt, "The Bench," from Renewing the Vows, (David Robert Books, 2007). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Schmitt and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 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.