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American Life in Poetry: ‘The Paper Boy’ by Thomas R. Smith

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

I suppose some of the newspapers that carry this column still employ young people to deliver the news, but carriers are now mostly adults. I had two paper routes when I was a boy and was pleased to find this reminiscence by Thomas R. Smith, a Wisconsin poet. His most recent book is “The Glory,” published by Red Dragonfly Press.

The Paper Boy

My route lassos the outskirts,

the reclusive, the elderly, the rural—

the poor who clan in their tarpaper

islands, the old ginseng hunter

Albert Harm, who strings the “crow’s

foot” to dry over his wood stove.

Shy eyes of fenced-in horses

follow me down the rutted dirt road.

At dusk, I pedal past white birches,

breathe the smoke of spring chimneys,

my heart working uphill toward someone

hungry for word from the world.

I am Mercury, bearing news, my wings

a single-speed maroon Schwinn bike.

I sear my bright path through the twilight

to the sick, the housebound, the lonely.

Messages delivered, wire basket empty,

I part the blue darkness toward supper,

confident I’ve earned this day’s appetite,

stronger knowing I’ll be needed tomorrow.

Poem copyright 2015 by Thomas R. Smith, from “The Glory” (Red Dragonfly Press, 2015) 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 submissions.

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