23. American Life in Poetry: Column 324

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

 

Here’s a fine poem by my fellow Nebraskan, Barbara Schmitz, who here offers us a picture of people we’ve all observed but haven’t thought to write about.

Uniforms

It is very hot—92 today—to be wearing
a stocking cap, but the adolescent swaggering
through the grocery store automatic door
doesn’t seem to mind; does not even appear
to be perspiring. The tugged-down hat
is part of his carefully orchestrated outfit:
bagging pants, screaming t-shirt, high-topped
shoes. The young woman who yells to her friends
from an open pickup window is attired
for summer season in strapless stretch
tube top, slipping down toward bountiful
cleavage valley. She tugs it up in front
as she races toward the two who have
just passed a cigarette between them
like a baton on a relay team. Her white
chest gleams like burnished treasure
as they giggle loudly there in the corner
and I glance down to see what costume
I have selected to present myself to
the world today. I smile; it’s my sky blue
shirt with large deliberately faded Peace sign,
smack dab in the middle, plus grey suede
Birkenstocks—a message that “I lived through
the sixties and am so proud.” None of the
young look my way. I round the corner and
walk into Evening descending.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2005 by Stephen C. Behrendt from his most recent book of poetry,History, Mid-List Press, 2005. Reprinted by permission of Stephen C. Behrendt and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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