American Life in Poetry: Column 769


I've been asked if I believe in ghosts, and my answer is, "Well, now, there's very little fun in NOT believing in ghosts." Here's a poem by Austin Smith, who lives in Illinois, about being encouraged by a father to believe in something that becomes real in the telling.

White Lie

Christmas Eves our dad would bring
Home from the farm real hay
For the reindeer that didn't exist
And after we were finally asleep
Would get out and take the slabs
Up in his arms and carry them
Back to the bed of his pickup,
Making sure to litter the snow
With chaff so he could show us
In the morning the place where
They'd stood eating, their harness
Bells dulled by the cold, their breath
Steam, all while we were dreaming.

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 Princeton University Press, "White Lie," from Flyover Country, (Princeton University Press, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Austin Smith 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.