December 1, 2013 in Features

American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser U.S. Poet Laureate
 

Poem copyright 2012 by Richard Levine from “A Tide of a Hundred Mountains” (Bright Hill 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.

The bread of life, well, what is it, anyway? Family, community, faith? Here’s a lovely reminiscence about the way in which bread brings us together, by Richard Levine, who lives in Brooklyn.

Bread

Each night, in a space he’d make

between waking and purpose,

my grandfather donned his one

suit, in our still dark house, and drove

through Brooklyn’s deserted streets

following trolley tracks to the bakery.

There he’d change into white

linen work clothes and cap,

and in the absence of women,

his hands were both loving, well

into dawn and throughout the day—

kneading, rolling out, shaping

each astonishing moment

of yeasty predictability

in that windowless world lit

by slightly swaying naked bulbs,

where the shadows staggered, woozy

with the aromatic warmth of the work.

Then, the suit and drive, again.

At our table, graced by a loaf

that steamed when we sliced it,

softened the butter and leavened

the very air we’d breathe,

he’d count us blessed.

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