American Life in Poetry: Column 803

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I’ve read that every time we call up a memory we tweak it a little, so that in the end what we remember is mostly fabrication. Here Emily Ransdell, a poet from Washington state, touches upon this phenomenon in a poem that’s about much more than memory. This appeared in New Letters, one of our best literary journals.

Everywhere a River

I do remember darkness, how it snaked
through the alders, their ashen flanks
in our high-beams the color of stone.
That hollow slap as floodwater hit
the sides of the car. Was the radio on?
Had I been asleep?
Sometimes you have to tell a story
your entire life to get it right.

Twenty-two and terrified, I had married you
but barely knew you. And for forty years
I’ve told this story wrong. In my memory
you drove right through it, the river
already rising on the road behind us,
no turning around.
But since your illness I recall it
differently. Now that I know it’s possible
to lose you, I’m finally remembering
it right. That night,
you threw that car in reverse,
and gunned it. You found us
another way home.
 

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 Emily Ransdell, “Everywhere a River,” from New Letters, (Vol. 86, nos. 1 & 2, 2019). Poem reprinted by permission of Emily Ransdell 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.