American Life in Poetry: Column 777

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Tolstoy said, "Nothing can make our life, or the lives of other people, more beautiful than perpetual kindness." I found this poem by Dorianne Laux in Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems, published by Grayson Books of West Hartford, CT. The poet, whose most recent book of poetry is Only As The Day Is Long, lives in Maine.

For the Sake of Strangers

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another—a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them—
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.


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 ©1994 by Dorianne Laux, "For the Sake of Strangers," from What We Carry, (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1994). Poem reprinted by permission of Dorianne Laux 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.