June 25, 2006

Storytelling binds the past and present together, and is essential to community life. Many of our poets are masters at reshaping family stories as poetry. Here, Lola Haskins retells a haunting tale, cast in the voice of an elder. Like the best stories, there are no inessential details. Every word counts toward the effect. - Ted Kooser

"Grandmother Speaks of the Old Country"

That year there were many deaths in the village.

Germs flew like angels from one house to the next

and every family gave up its own. Mothers

died at their mending. Children fell at school.

Of three hundred twenty, there were eleven left.

Then, quietly, the sun set on a day when no one

died. And the angels whispered among themselves.

And that evening, as he sat on the stone steps,

your grandfather felt a small wind on his neck

when all the trees were still. And he would tell us

always, how he had felt that night, on the skin

of his own neck, the angels, passing.

Ted Kooser is U.S. poet laureate. Reprinted from Desire Lines: New and Selected Poems, BOA Editions, 2004, by permission of the author and the publisher. Copyright 2004 by Lola Haskins.

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