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American Life in Poetry

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

David Hernandez is a Californian who knows how to have a good time with his writing. Here’s a delightful flight of fancy based on a negotiation with a postal clerk.

At the Post Office

The line is long, processional, glacial,

and the attendant a giant stone, cobalt blue

with flecks of white, I’m not so much

looking at a rock but a slab of night.

The stone asks if anything inside the package

is perishable. When I say no the stone

laughs, muted thunderclap, meaning

everything decays, not just fruit

or cut flowers, but paper, ink, the CD

I burned with music, and my friend

waiting to hear the songs, some little joy

after chemo eroded the tumor. I know flesh

is temporary, and memory a tilting barn

the elements dismantle nail by nail.

I know the stone knows a millennia of rain

and wind will even grind away

his ragged face, and all of this slow erasing

is just a prelude to when the swelling

universe burns out, goes dark, holds

nothing but black holes, the bones of stars

and planets, a vast silence. The stone

is stone-faced. The stone asks how soon

I want the package delivered. As fast

as possible, I say, then start counting the days.

Poem copyright 2011 by David Hernandez from “Hoodwinked” (Sarabande Books, 2011), 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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