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Editor’s Note: This column (605) is a reprint from the American Life in Poetry archive as we bid farewell to Ted Kooser, and work to finalize the new website and forthcoming columns curated by Kwame Dawes.

Beginning writers often tell me their real lives aren’t interesting enough to write about, but the mere act of shaping a poem lifts its subject matter above the ordinary. Here’s Natasha Trethewey, who served two terms as U. S. Poet Laureate, illustrating just what I’ve described. It’s from her book, “Domestic Work,” from Graywolf Press. Trethewey lives in Illinois.


We mourn the broken things, chair legs wrenched from their seats, chipped plates, the threadbare clothes. We work the magic of glue, drive the nails, mend the holes. We save what we can, melt small pieces of soap, gather fallen pecans, keep neck bones for soup. Beating rugs against the house, we watch dust, lit like stars,

spreading across the yard. Late afternoon, we draw the blinds to cool the rooms, drive the bugs out. My mother irons, singing, lost in reverie. I mark the pages of a mail-order catalog, listen for passing cars. All day we watch for the mail, some news from a distant place.

Poem copyright ©2000 by Natasha Trethewey, “Housekeeping,” from “Domestic Work” (Graywolf Press, 2000). Poem reprinted by permission of Natasha Trethewey and the publisher. Introduction copyright @2021 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.; 402-444-1375


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