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   from the issue of September 14, 2006

American Life in Poetry


In many American poems, the poet makes a personal appearance and offers us a revealing monologue from center stage, but there are lots of fine poems in which the poet, a stranger in a strange place, observes the lives of others from a distance and imagines her way into them. This poem by Lita Hooper is a good example of this kind of writing.

Love Worn

In a tavern on the Southside of Chicago
a man sits with his wife. From their
corner booth
each stares at strangers just beyond
the other's shoulder,
nodding to the songs of their youth.
Tonight they will not fight.

Thirty years of marriage sits
between them
like a bomb. The woman shifts
then rubs her right wrist as the man
recalls the day
when they sat on the porch of her
parents' home.

Even then he could feel the absence
of something
desired or planned. There was the smell
of a freshly tarred driveway,
the slow heat,
him offering his future to folks
he did not know.

And there was the blooming magnolia
tree in the distance -
its oversized petals like those
on the woman's dress,
making her belly even larger, her hands
disappearing into the folds.

When the last neighbor or friend
leaves their booth
he stares at her hands, which are now
closer to his,
remembers that there had always been
some joy. Leaning
closer, he believes he can see
their daughter in her eyes.

From "Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade," University of Michigan Press, 2006, by permission of the author. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Lita Hooper, whose most recent book is "The Art of Work: The Art and Life of Haki Madhubuti," Third World Press, 2006. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the UNL Department of English. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.



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