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American Life in Poetry: Column 465

U.S. Poet Laureate

One of the founders of modernist poetry, Ezra Pound, advised poets and artists to “make it new.” I’ve never before seen a poem about helping a tree shake the snow from itself and I like this one by Thomas Reiter, who lives in New Jersey.

Releasing a Tree

Softly pummeled overnight, the lower

limbs of our Norway spruce

flexed and the deepening snow held them.

Windless sunlight now, so I go out

wearing hip waders and carrying

not a fly rod but a garden hoe. I begin

worrying the snow for the holdfast

of a branch that’s so far down

a wren’s nest floats above it like a buoy.

I work the hoe, not chopping but cradling,

then pull straight up. A current of air

as the needles loft their burden

over my head. Those grace notes

of the snowfall, crystals giving off

copper, green, rose — watching them

I stumble over a branch, go down

and my gloves fill with snow. Ah, I find

my father here: I remember as a child

how flames touched my hand the time

I added wood to the stove in our ice-fishing

shanty, how he plunged that hand

through the hole into the river, teaching me

one kind of burning can ease another.

The branch bobs then tapers into place

and composes itself, looking

unchanged though all summer

it will bring up this day from underfoot.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Thomas Reiter, whose most recent book of poems is Catchment, Louisiana State Univ. Press, 2009. Poem reprinted from The Southern Review, Vol. 49, no. 1, by permission of Thomas Reiter and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 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.

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