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Ted Kooser

American Life in Poetry: Family Stories

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American Life in Poetry: Family Stories
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

An exchange of stories is frequently one of the first steps toward a friendship. Here's the recollection of one of those exchanges, by Dorianne Laux, who lives and teaches in North Carolina.

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Family Stories

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,

how an argument once ended when his father

seized a lit birthday cake in both hands

and hurled it out a second-story window. That,

I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger

sent out across the sill, landing like a gift

to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine

it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,

and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed

the people in his stories really loved one another,

even when they yelled and shoved their feet

through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle

of cheap champagne, christening the wall,

rungs exploding from their holes.

I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury

of the passionate. He said it was a curse

being born Italian and Catholic and when he

looked from that window what he saw was the moment

rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous

three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship

down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk

deep in the icing, a few still burning.

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 ©2000 by Dorianne Laux, whose most recent book of poems is The Book of Men, W.W. Norton & Co., 2011. Poem reprinted from Smoke, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000, by permission of Dorianne Laux and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 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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