Nebraska’s Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate from 2004 to 2006, offers “American Life in Poetry,” a column on contemporary poetry.
As children, many of us played after dark, running out to the border of the reach of light from the windows of home. In a way, this poem by Judith Slater, who lives in New York state, remembers the way in which, at the edge of uncertainty, we turned back.
Four weeks in, quarreling and far
from home, we came to the loneliest place.
A western railroad town. Remember?
I left you at the campsite with greasy pans
and told our children not to follow me.
The dying light had made me desperate.
I broke into a hobbled run, across tracks,
past warehouses with sun-blanked windows
to where a playground shone in a wooded clearing.
Then I was swinging, out over treetops.
I saw myself never going back, yet
whatever breathed in the mute woods
was not another life. The sun sank.
I let the swing die, my toes scuffed earth,
and I was rocked into remembrance
of the girl who had dreamed the life I had.
Through night, dark at the root, I returned to it.
Poem copyright ©2011 by Judith Slater from her most recent book of poems, “The Wind Turning Pages,” Outriders Poetry Project, 2011. Reprinted by permission of Judith Slater and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation.