April 2, 2006 in Features

American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser U.S. Poet Laureate

Walt Whitman’s poems took in the world through a wide-angle lens, including nearly everything, but most later poets have focused much more narrowly. Here the poet and novelist Jim Harrison nods to Whitman with a sweeping, inclusive poem about the course of life.


At dawn I heard among bird calls

the billions of marching feet in the churn

and squeak of gravel, even tiny feet

still wet from the mother’s amniotic fluid,

and very old halting feet, the feet

of the very light and very heavy, all marching

but not together, criss-crossing at every angle

with sincere attempts not to touch, not to bump

into each other, walking in the doors of houses

and out the back door forty years later, finally

knowing that time collapses on a single

plateau where they were all their lives,

knowing that time stops when the heart stops

as they walk off the earth into the night air.

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