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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser

One of the first things an aspiring writer must learn is to pay attention, to look intently at what is going on. Here’s a good example of a poem by Gabriel Spera, a Californian, that wouldn’t have been possible without close observation.


The jay’s up early, and attacks the lawn

with something of that fervor and despair

of one whose keys are not where they always are,

checking the same spots over and again

till something new or overlooked appears –

an armored pillbug, or a husk of grain.

He flits with it home, where his mate beds down,

her stern tail feathers jutting from the nest

like a spoon handle from a breakfast bowl.

The quickest lover’s peck, and he’s paroled

again to stalk the sodgrass, cockheaded, obsessed.

He must get something from his selfless work –

joy, or reprieve, or a satisfying sense

of obligation dutifully dispensed.

Unless, of course, he’s just a bird, with beaks –

too many beaks – to fill, in no way possessed

of traits or demons humans might devise,

his dark not filled with could-have-beens and whys.

Poem copyright 2012 by Gabriel Spera from his most recent book of poems, “The Rigid Body,” Ashland Poetry Press, 2012. Poem reprinted 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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