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American Life in Poetry: ‘L.A. River’

2004-06

All too often poets shun simple, direct, and earthy words like “tea” in favor of others that sound more sophisticated, like Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong. But fancy words put experience at a greater distance. Here’s a delightful poem by Jack Cooper, who lives in Los Angeles, and it depends for part of its effect on words like “goofy” and “waddle.” Our experience of the poem is all the more “real” thanks to those words. Jack Cooper’s most recent book of poetry is “Across My Silence” (World Audience Publishers, 2007).

L.A. River

I like how the mallard ducklings

goofy and weak

waddle up the cement incline

then slide into this runoff

of lawn sprinklers and car washes

and how the great blue heron

seems to be teleported here

from the Jurassic

to look for extinct species of fish

but mostly I like the way

the little birds

fly in and out of the barbed wire

with only a smear of water

to keep them singing.

Poem copyright 2016 by Jack Cooper, “L.A. River,” from Rattle, (No. 52, Summer 2016). 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 submissions.

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