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American Life in Poetry
by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate 2004-2006

Here Tess Gallagher goes to the mailbox to post a
letter. We’ve all done that, haven’t we? But notice how closely she pays
attention to this simple experience, and how she fits this one moment into the meaning of her life.

Under Stars

The sleep of this night deepens
because I have walked coatless from the house
carrying the white envelope.
All night it will say one name
in its little tin house by the roadside.
I have raised the metal flag
so its shadow under the roadlamp
leaves an imprint on the rain-heavy bushes.
Now I will walk back
thinking of the few lights still on
in the town a mile away.
In the yellowed light of a kitchen
the millworker has finished his coffee,
his wife has laid out the white slices of bread
on the counter. Now while the bed they have left
is still warm, I will think of you, you
who are so far away
you have caused me to look up at the stars.
Tonight they have not moved
from childhood, those games played after dark.
Again I walk into the wet grass
toward the starry voices. Again, I
am the found one, intimate, returned
by all I touch on the way.

“Under Stars” copyright 1987 by Tess Gallagher. Reprinted from Amplitude: New & Selected Poems with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minn. Gallagher’s most recent book of poetry is Dear Ghosts: Poems, Graywolf Press, 2006. 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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