January 26, 2014 in Features

American Life in Poetry

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

So much of what we learn about life comes from exchanging stories, and this poem by a Californian, Peter Everwine, portrays that kind of teaching. I love the moment where he says he doesn’t know if the story is true but it ought to be.

A Story Can Change Your Life

On the morning she became a young widow,

my grandmother, startled by a sudden shadow,

looked up from her work to see a hawk turn

her prized rooster into a cloud of feathers.

That same moment, halfway around the world

in a Minnesota mine, her husband died,

buried under a ton of rockfall.

She told me this story sixty years ago.

I don’t know if it’s true but it ought to be.

She was a hard old woman, and though she knelt

on Sundays when the acolyte’s silver bell

announced the moment of Christ’s miracle,

it was the darker mysteries she lived by:

shiver-cry of an owl, black dog by the roadside,

a tapping at the door and nobody there.

The moral of the story was plain enough:

miracles become a burden and require a priest

to explain them. With signs, you only need

to keep your wits about you and place your trust

in a shadow world that lets you know hard luck

and grief are coming your way. And for that

– so the story goes – any day will do.

Poem copyright 2012 by Peter Everwine, whose most recent book of poems is “Listening Long and Late,” University of Pittsburg Press, 2013. Poem reprinted from Ploughshares, Winter 2012-13, Vol. 38, No. 4, by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible 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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