American Life in Poetry

In recognition of September as National Library Card Sign-up Month… American Life in Poetry

Editor’s note: This new feature is the result of listening to our poet laureate speak about this national column on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show, WNIJ-95FM. The Rock River Times is very happy to continue supporting the arts, and poetry in particular.

By Ted Kooser, U. S. Poet Laureate

In this poem by New York poet Martin Walls, a common insect is described and made vivid for us through a number of fresh and engaging comparisons. Thus an ordinary insect becomes something remarkable and memorable.

Cicadas at the End of Summer

Whine as though a pine tree is bowing a broken violin,

As though a bandsaw cleaves a thousand thin sheets of


They chime like freight wheels on a Norfolk Southern

slowing into town.

But all you ever see is the silence.

Husks, glued to the underside of maple leaves.

With their nineteen fifties Bakelite lines they’d do

just as well hanging from the ceiling of a space


What cicadas leave behind is a kind of crystallized memory;

The stubborn detail of, the shape around a life turned

The color of forgotten things: a cold broth of tea & milk

in the bottom of a mug.

Or skin on an old tin of varnish you have to lift with

lineman’s pliers.

A fly paper that hung thirty years in Bird Cooper’s pantry

in Brighton.

Reprinted from “Small Human Detail in Care of National Trust,” New Issues Press, Western Michigan University, 2000, by permission of the author. Poem copyright© by Martin Walls, a 2005 Wytter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress. His latest collection “Commonwealth” is available from March Street Press. 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.

From the Sept. 14-20, 2005, issue

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