American Life in Poetry: Column 819

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

The following poem by Susanna Brougham appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Beloit Poetry Journal, one of our country’s successful older literary journals. This is as fine a poem about “the staff of life” as I’ve ever seen. Is that a pun in the last line? I’ll leave that to you. Brougham lives in Massachusetts.

Translation

Months later, my father and I
discovered his mother’s last word—
deep in the downstairs freezer,
one loaf of dark rye.

Its thaw slowed the hours.

I could not bear
the thought of eating it.
Then the ice subsided. The bread
was firm, fragrant, forgiving.

My father got the knife,
the butter. The slices
held. Together we ate
that Finnish silence.
 

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 ©2020 by Susanna Brougham, "Translation," from Beloit Poetry Journal, (Vol. 70, No. 1, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Susanna Brougham and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2021 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.