American Life in Poetry: Column 708


This column originates from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and a half-hour's drive south there's a creek with flat stones on its floor where wagons passed down and over the muddy bottom, up the other bank, and on west to Oregon. Here's a poem about that great migration, by Kim Lozano, a poet from St. Louis.

The Ruts

       Most have been plowed up or paved over
but you can still find them, tracks cut
      deep into the earth by prairie schooners
crossing that great green ocean, pitching
      waves of pasture out where there's nothing
else to do but live. Concealing their detritus—
      a piece of sun-bleached buffalo skull, a button
from a cavalry soldier's coat—the ruts wind
      their way beneath leafy suburban streets, lie
buried under a Phillips 66 and the corner
      of a Pizza Hut where a couple sits slumped
in their booth. Yet here and there, like a fish
      head breaking the surface of the water, they
emerge in a school teacher's back yard or a
      farmer's field, evidence of wagons packed
with hardtack and hard money, thousands of
      draft animals tended by traders with blistered
feet, their journey both bleak and romantic.
      That's the kind of proof I like, a scar I can put
my hand to, history that will dust my fingers
      with a little bit of suffering, a little bit of bone.

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 Kim Lozano, "The Ruts," from Third Coast, (Spring, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Kim Lozano and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2020 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.