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American Life in Poetry: Column 226

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Elizabeth Bishop, one of our greatest American poets, once wrote a long poem in which the sudden appearance of a moose on a highway creates a community among a group of strangers on a bus. Here Ronald Wallace, a Wisconsin poet, gives us a sighting with similar results.

Sustenance

Australia. Phillip Island. The Tasman Sea.
Dusk. The craggy coastline at low tide in fog.
Two thousand tourists milling in the stands
as one by one, and then in groups, the fairy penguins
mass up on the sand like so much sea wrack and
debris. And then, as on command, the improbable
parade begins: all day they've been out fishing
for their chicks, and now, somehow, they find them
squawking in their burrows in the dunes, one by one,
two by two, such comical solemnity, as wobbling by
they catch our eager eyes until we're squawking, too,
in English, French, and Japanese, Yiddish and Swahili,
like some happy wedding party brought to tears
by whatever in the ceremony repairs the rifts
between us. The rain stops. The fog lifts. Stars.
And we go home, less hungry, satisfied, to friends
and family, regurgitating all we've heard and seen.

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. "Sustenance" from "For A Limited Time Only," by Ronald Wallace, © 2008. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. The poem first appeared in "Poetry Northwest," Vol. 41, no. 4, 2001. Introduction copyright © 2009 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.