All branches will be closed Wednesday, December 24 through Friday, December 26. We wish you a happy & safe holiday!

American Life in Poetry: Column 229

 BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE 


For over forty years, Mark Vinz, of Moorhead, Minnesota—poet, teacher, publisher—has been a prominent advocate for the literature of the Upper Great Plains. Here’s a recent poem that speaks to growing older.


Cautionary Tales

Beyond the field of grazing, gazing cows
the great bull has a pasture to himself,
monumental, black flanks barely twitching
from the swarming flies. Only a few strands of
wire separate us—how could I forget
my childhood terror, the grownups warning
that the old bull near my uncle’s farm
would love to chase me, stomp me, gore me
if I ever got too close. And so I
skirted acres just to keep my distance,
peeking through the leaves to see if he still
was watching me, waiting for some foolish move—
those fierce red eyes, the thunder in the ground—
or maybe that was simply nightmares. It’s
getting hard to tell, as years themselves keep
gaining ground relentlessly, their hot breath
on my back, and not a fence in sight.

 

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 ©2008 by Mark Vinz, whose most recent book of poems is Long Distance, Midwestern Writers Publishing House, 2006. Poem reprinted from South Dakota Review Vol. 46, no. 2, by permission of Mark Vinz and the publisher. 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.