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American Life in Poetry: ‘The Ruts’ by Kim Lozano

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

This column originates from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and a half-hour’s drive south there’s a creek with flat stones on its floor where wagons passed down and over the muddy bottom, up the other bank, and on west to Oregon. Here’s a poem about that great migration, by Kim Lozano, a poet from St. Louis.

The Ruts

Most have been plowed up or paved over

but you can still find them, tracks cut

deep into the earth by prairie schooners

crossing that great green ocean, pitching

waves of pasture out where there’s nothing

else to do but live. Concealing their detritus—

a piece of sun-bleached buffalo skull, a button

from a cavalry soldier’s coat—the ruts wind

their way beneath leafy suburban streets, lie

buried under a Phillips 66 and the corner

of a Pizza Hut where a couple sits slumped

in their booth. Yet here and there, like a fish

head breaking the surface of the water, they

emerge in a school teacher’s back yard or a

farmer’s field, evidence of wagons packed

with hardtack and hard money, thousands of

draft animals tended by traders with blistered

feet, their journey both bleak and romantic.

That’s the kind of proof I like, a scar I can put

my hand to, history that will dust my fingers

with a little bit of suffering, a little bit of bone.

Poem copyright 2017 by Kim Lozano, “The Ruts,” from “Third Coast,” (Spring, 2017). 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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