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American Life in Poetry: Developing the Land

American Life in Poetry: Developing the Land


Those of us who live in the country equate the word “development” with displacement, and it has often been said that subdivisions are named for what they replace, like Woodland Glade. Here’s a writer from my state, Nebraska, Stephen Behrendt, with a poem about what some call progress.

Developing the Land

For six nights now the cries have sounded in the pasture:

coyote voices fluting across the greening rise to the east

where the deer have almost ceased to pass

now that the developers have carved up yet another section,

filled another space with spars and studs, concrete, runoff.

Five years ago you saw two spotted fawns rise

for the first time from brome where brick mailboxes will stand;

only three years past came great horned owls

who raised two squeaking, downy owlets

that perished in the traffic, skimming too low across the road

behind some swift, more fortunate cottontail.

It was on an August afternoon that you drove in,

curling down our long gravel drive past pasture and creek,

that you saw, flickering at the edge of your sight,

three mounted Indians, motionless in the paused breeze,

who vanished when you turned your head.

We have felt the presence on this land of others,

of some who paused here, some who passed, who have left

in the thick clay shards and splinters of themselves that we dig up,

turn up with spade and tine when we garden or bury our animals;

their voices whisper on moonless nights in the back pasture hollow

where the horses snort and nicker, wary with alarm.

Ted Kooser was US Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. He is a professor in the English Department of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He lives on an acreage near the village of Garland, Nebraska, with his wife Kathleen Rutledge, the editor of the Lincoln Journal Star.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2005 by Stephen C. Behrendt from his most recent book of poetry, History, Mid-List Press, 2005. Reprinted by permission of Stephen C. Behrendt and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2010 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

American Life in Poetry ©2006 The Poetry Foundation

Contact: [email protected].

This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 28 November 2010 16:40 )


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