Nebraska’s Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate from 2004 to 2006, offers “American Life in Poetry,” a column on contemporary poetry.
Among the most ancient uses for language are descriptions of places, when a person has experienced something he or she wants to tell somebody else about. Some of these get condensed and transformed into poetry, and here’s a good example, by Susan Kolodny, a poet from the Bay Area of California.
Koi Pond, Oakland Museum
Our shadows bring them from the shadows:
a yolk-yellow one with a navy pattern
like a Japanese woodblock print of fish scales.
A fat 18-karat one splashed with gaudy purple
and a patch of gray. One with a gold head,
a body skim-milk-white, trailing ventral fins
like half-folded fans of lace.
A poppy-red, faintly disheveled one,
and one, compact, all indigo in faint green water.
They wear comical whiskers and gather beneath us
as we lean on the cement railing
in indecisive late-December light,
and because we do not feed them, they pass,
then they loop and circle back. Loop and circle. Loop.
“Look,” you say, “beneath them.” Beneath them,
like a subplot or a motive, is a school
of uniformly dark ones, smaller, unadorned,
perhaps another species, living in the shadow
of the gold, purple, yellow, indigo and white,
seeking the mired roots and dusky grasses,
unliveried, the quieter beneath the quiet.
Poem copyright ©2011 by Susan Kolodny from her first book of poems, “After the Firestorm,” Mayapple Press, 2011. Poem first appeared in the New England Review, Vol. 18, no. 1, 1997. Reprinted by permission of Susan Kolodny and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation.