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American Life in Poetry

I am very fond of poems that don’t use more words than they have to. They’re easier to carry around in your memory. There are Chinese poems written 1,300 years ago that have survived intact at least in part because they’re models of succinctness. Here’s a contemporary version by Jo McDougall, who lives not in China but in Kansas.

Telling Time

My son and I walk away

from his sister’s day-old grave.

Our backs to the sun,

the forward pitch of our shadows

tells us the time.

By sweetest accident

he inclines

his shadow,

touching mine.

Poem copyright 2001 by Autumn House Press and is reprinted from “The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry,” 2nd ed., 2011, by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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