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American life in poetry

Among the most ancient uses for language are descriptions of places, when a person has experienced something he or she wants to tell somebody else about. Some of these get condensed and transformed into poetry, and here’s a good example, by Susan Kolodny, a poet from the Bay Area of California.

Koi Pond, Oakland Museum

Our shadows bring them from the shadows:

a yolk-yellow one with a navy pattern

like a Japanese woodblock print of fish scales.

A fat 18-karat one splashed with gaudy purple

and a patch of gray. One with a gold head,

a body skim-milk-white, trailing ventral fins

like half-folded fans of lace.

A poppy-red, faintly disheveled one,

and one, compact, all indigo in faint green water.

They wear comical whiskers and gather beneath us

as we lean on the cement railing

in indecisive late-December light,

and because we do not feed them, they pass,

then they loop and circle back. Loop and circle. Loop.

“Look,” you say, “beneath them.” Beneath them,

like a subplot or a motive, is a school

of uniformly dark ones, smaller, unadorned,

perhaps another species, living in the shadow

of the gold, purple, yellow, indigo, and white,

seeking the mired roots and dusky grasses,

unliveried, the quieter beneath the quiet.

Poem copyright 2011 by Susan Kolodny from “After the Firestorm” (Mayapple Press), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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