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American Life in Poetry: ‘Youth’ by David Steingass

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

It’s been a very long time since I was young, but I remember the giddiness of first love, and David Steingass, a Wisconsin poet, shows us in this poem how poetry can both recall and reflect that kind of emotional excitement. This is from his book, “Hunt & Gather,” from Red Dragonfly Press.


I vowed I’d quit ciggies on the heel of the mother

Of all hangovers. The world at noon pulsed a first

Columbus Ohio spring day. I’d fallen in love

Of course, as recently as chem lab and held

The ghost of her smell

In my clothes. Or lips

If I’d been lucky. My blood thunk

Thunk-thunked, the way a cut feels

As you bend to tie shoes. The way life

Tingles the first day it breaks loose

To crawl your skin. Dizzy,

I ran through milky sap and

Sycamore-leafed streets, mixing the smells

Of just-thawed earth with essence of girl

My blood steamed. I understood lost-at-sea as glamorous

Isolation, the way a hummingbird’s movement through two

Eye blinks allows it to vanish and

Re-appear. My wings blurred hinges

Among worlds. Nothing held me. Nothing

Could catch me. I’d run this way forever.

Poem copyright 2016 by David Steingass, from “Hunt & Gather: Poems New and Selected” (Red Dragonfly Press, 2016), and reprinted by permission of the author and the 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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