American Life in Poetry: Column 785

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I'm writing this column on a summer day when a hungry crowd of Monarch butterfly caterpillars are eating the upper leaves of the milkweed just outside my door in Nebraska, and my wife and I are joyful that they're getting a good start at life. The following poem is from Stuart Kestenbaum's new book, How to Start Over, from Deerbrook Editions. He lives in Maine and is the state's Poet Laureate.

Joy

The asters shake from stem to flower
waiting for the monarchs to alight.

Every butterfly knows that the end
is different from the beginning

and that it is always a part
of a longer story, in which we are always

transformed. When it's time to fly,
you know how, just the way you knew

how to breathe, just the way the air
knew to find its way into your lungs,

the way the geese know when to depart,
the way their wings know how to

speak to the wind, a partnership of feather
and glide, lifting into the blue dream.


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 ©2019 by Stuart Kestenbaum, "Joy," from How to Start Over, (Deerbrook Editions, 2019). Poem reprinted by permission of Stuart Kestenbaum 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.