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Saturday, August 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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American Life in Poetry: ‘Happiness’

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

Is it worse to live in a city where you can’t see a big storm coming until it’s right on top of you, or to be out on the plains where you can see it coming for almost too long? I like this long look at an approaching and then passing storm by Max Garland, who lives in Wisconsin. It’s from his fine book, “The Word We Used For It,” from the University of Wisconsin Press.


The storm was headed in our direction—

big loom of gray like the absolute West

leaned over us. Reports of damage

in the neighboring counties—a silo unfurled

and took wing, a house trailer

twisted loose. On the Doppler screen

the storm looked alive, yellow and green

at the fringes, with a fierce red heart

trending to violet. Sirens swept over

to scare it away, like songbirds

grow strident, circle and bluff

at the sight of an owl.

When the rain came in sheets,

I regretted my sins. When lightning

cracked the red pine’s half-rotted heart,

I wished the world more joy

in general. When the worst was over

and the grass lay flat, but alive,

and the sky was a waning bruise,

I thought of that silo, how it wasn’t mine,

and all that grain cast back into the world’s

wind, maybe some of it still flying.

Poem copyright 2017 by Max Garland, “Happiness,” from “The Word We Used For It,” (University of Wisconsin Press, 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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