August 17, 2014 in Features

American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

The ancient Chinese poets used to say that at some point in each poem the poet ought to lift his (or her) eyes, ought to look beyond the surface of the present into something deeper and more meaningful. Here is just such a poem by Linda M. Hasselstrom, who lives in South Dakota.

Planting Peas

It’s not spring yet, but I can’t

wait anymore. I get the hoe,

pull back the snow from the old

furrows, expose the rich dark earth.

I bare my hand and dole out shriveled peas,

one by one.

I see my grandmother’s hand,

doing just this, dropping peas

into gray gumbo that clings like clay.

This moist earth is rich and dark

as chocolate cake.

Her hands cradle

baby chicks; she finds kittens in the loft

and hands them down to me, safe beside

the ladder leading up to darkness.

I miss

her smile, her blue eyes, her biscuits and gravy,

but mostly her hands.

I push a pea into the earth,

feel her hands pushing me back. She’ll come in May,

she says, in long straight rows,

dancing in light green dresses.

Copyright 1984 by Linda M. Hasselstrom ( 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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