American Life in Poetry: Column 603

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BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

The workings of memory are something that every writer thinks a lot about, and in this poem Peter Everwine, a California poet we’ve featured before, looks very closely into those workings. His most recent book is Listening Long and Late, from the University of Pittsburgh Press. This poem is from Five Points, a distinguished quarterly journal.

A Small Story

When Mrs. McCausland comes to mind
she slips through a small gap in oblivion
and walks down her front steps, in her hand
a small red velvet pillow she tucks
under the head of Old Jim Schreiber,
who is lying dead-drunk against the curb
of busy Market Street. Then she turns,
labors up the steps and is gone . . .

A small story. Or rather, the memory
of a story I heard as a boy. The witnesses
are not to be found, the steps lead nowhere,
the pillow has collapsed into a thread of dust . . .
Do the dead come back only to remind us
they, too, were once among the living,
and that the story we make of our lives
is a mystery of luminous, but uncertain moments,
a shuffle of images we carry toward sleep—
Mrs. McCausland with her velvet pillow,
Old Jim at peace—a story, like a small
clearing in the woods at night, seen
from the windows of a passing train.


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 Peter Everwine, “A Small Story,” from Five Points, (Vol. 17, no. 1, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Peter Everwine 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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