American Life in Poetry: Column 719


The glaciers that flattened my part of the world made their exit eons ago, but in Alaska, where Peggy Shumaker lives and writes, they're just now beginning to turn back. Only deep in a Nebraska snowbank can you shovel your way into the blue she describes at the end of this poem, from her new and selected poems, Cairn, from Red Hen Press.

Exit Glacier

When we got close enough
we could hear
rivers inside the ice
heaving splits
the groaning of a ledge
about to
calve. Strewn in the moraine
fresh moose sign—
tawny oblong pellets
breaking up
sharp black shale. In one breath
ice and air—
history, the record
of breaking—
prophecy, the warning
of what's yet to break
out from under
four stories
of bone-crushing turquoise

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 ©2018 by Peggy Shumaker, "Exit Glacier," from Cairn: New and Selected, (Red Hen Press, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Peggy Shumaker 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.