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American Life in Poetry

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

Midwestern poet Richard Newman traces the imaginary life of coins as a connection between people. The coins — seemingly of little value — become a ceremonial and communal currency.



My change: a nickel caked with finger grime; two nicked quarters not long for this life, worth more for keeping dead eyes shut than bus fare; a dime, shining in sunshine like a new dime; grubby pennies, one stamped the year of my birth, no brighter than I from 40 years of wear.

What purses, piggy banks, and window sills have these coins known, their presidential heads pinched into what beggar’s chalky palm — they circulate like tarnished red blood cells, all of us exchanging the merest film of our lives, and the lives of those long dead.

And now my turn in the convenience store, I hand over my fist of change, still warm, to the bored, lip-pierced check-out girl, once more to be spun down cigarette machines, hurled in fountains, flipped for luck — these dirty charms chiming in the dark pockets of the world.


Reprinted from Borrowed Towns, World Press, 2005, by permission of the author. First printed in "Crab Orchard Review," Volume 10, No. 1, 2005. Copyright 2005 by Richard Newman. 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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