American Life in Poetry: Column 811

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Edward Muir’s poem, “The Horses,” published many years ago, envisioned a future in which the work horse would return, and with them we’d have a new beginning. Today, some of our fellow creatures aren’t to come back. Here’s a poem by Robert Hedin, of Minnesota, that I found in the most recent Alaska Quarterly Review. Hedin’s most recent book is At the Great Door of Morning, from Copper Canyon Press.

Monarchs, Viceroys, Swallowtails

For years they came tacking in, full sail,
Riding the light down through the trees,
Over the rooftops, and not just monarchs,
But viceroys, swallowtails, so many
They became unremarkable, showing up
As they did whether we noticed them or not,
Swooping and fanning out at the bright
Margins of the day. So how did we know
Until it was too late, until they quit coming,
That the flowers in the flower beds
Would close their shutters, and the birds
Grow so dull they’d lose the power to sing,
And how later, after the river died,
Others would follow, admirals, buckeyes,
All going off like some lavish parade
Into the great overcrowded silence.
And no one bothered to tell the trees
They wouldn’t be coming back any more,
The huge shade trees where they used
To gather, every last branch and leaf sagging
Under the bright freight of their wings.

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 Robert Hedin, "Monarchs, Viceroys, Swallowtails," from the Alaska Quarterly Review (Vol. 36, No. 3 & 4). Poem reprinted by permission of Robert Hedin 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.