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American Life in Poetry

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

At the beginning of the famous novel, Remembrance of Things Past, the mere taste of a biscuit started Marcel Proust on a seven-volume remembrance. Here a bulldozer turns up an old doorknob, and look what happens in Shirley Buettner’s imagination.



While clearing the west

quarter for more cropland,

the Cat quarried

a porcelain doorknob

oystered in earth,

grained and crazed

like an historic egg,

with a screwless stem of

rusted and pitted iron.

I turn its cold white roundness

with my palm and

open the oak door

fitted with oval glass,

fretted with wood ivy,

and call my frontier neighbor.

Her voice comes distant but

clear, scolding children

in overalls

and highbutton shoes.

A bucket of fresh eggs and

a clutch of rhubarb rest

on her daisied oil-cloth.

She knew I would knock someday,

wanting in.


From Walking Out the Dark (Juniper Press, 1984). Copyright (c) 1984 by Shirley Buettner and reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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