American Life in Poetry: Column 614

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BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

There are times when a single word in a poem is so perfect a choice that it pops like a firecracker, and I’ll let you guess which word did that for me. A hint: it’s a modifier. The poem is by Anya Krugovoy Silver, who lives in Georgia, from her new book, From Nothing, from LSU Press.

Just Red

I stand in Walgreens while my mother sleeps.
The store is fluorescent and almost empty.
My father is ailing in a nursing home,
my friend is dying in the hospital.
What I want tonight is lipstick.
As pure a red as I can find—no coral
undertones, no rust or fawn. Just red.
Ignoring the salespeople, I untwist tubes
and scrawl each color on my wrist,
till the blue veins beneath my skin
disappear behind smeared bars. I select one.
Back in my mother’s apartment, silence.
I limn my lips back out of my wan face.
There they are again: smacky and wanting.


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 ©2016 byAnya Krugovoy Silver, “Just Red,” from From Nothing,(Louisiana State University Press,2016). Poem reprinted by permission o fAnya Krugovoy Silver 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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