American Life in Poetry: Column 602

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BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Travel can sharpen our awareness, can keep us on the alert, and here’s a poem by Patricia Traxler from her new book Naming the Fires, from Hanging Loose Press. Traxler lives in Salina, Kansas.

Last Hike Before Leaving Montana

Late winter, almost spring. It’s like finding a diamond;
now I don’t want to leave. I sit in the dirt and put my hands
in your tracks. For the first time in a long time I don’t
doubt. Now I know I always knew you were here. You
are the beginning of disclosure, the long-felt presence

Suddenly incarnate. Behind me my friend warns, If we
see the bear, get into a fetal position. No problem,
I tell her, I’m always in a fetal position—I was born
in a fetal position. Did you know, she says, the body
of a shaved bear looks exactly like a human man?
I skip a stone, feel a sudden bloat of grief, then laugh.
I ask her, Who would shave a bear? We climb

Farther up Rattlesnake Creek, watch winter sun glitter
off dark water. No matter how high we go I look higher.
Sometimes absence can prove presence. That’s not exactly
faith, I know. All day, everywhere, I feel you near at hand.
There’s so much to understand, and everything to prove.
Up high the air is thin and hard, roars in the ears like love.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher ofPoetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Patricia Traxler, “Last Hike Before Leaving Montana,” (Naming the Fires, Hanging Loose Press, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Patricia Traxler and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2016 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.

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