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American Life in Poetry: Column 242

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

There are lots of poems in which a poet expresses belated appreciation for a parent, and if you don’t know Robert Hayden’s poem, “Those Winter Sundays,” you ought to look it up sometime. In this lovely sonnet, Kathy Mangan, of Maryland, contributes to that respected tradition.

The Whistle

You could whistle me home from anywhere
in the neighborhood; avenues away,
I’d pick out your clear, alternating pair
of notes, the signal to quit my child’s play
and run back to our house for supper,
or a Saturday trip to the hardware store.
Unthrottled, wavering in the upper
reaches, your trilled summons traveled farther
than our few blocks. I’ve learned too, how your heart’s
radius extends, though its beat
has stopped. Still, some days a sudden fear darts
through me, whether it’s my own city street
I hurry across, or at a corner in an unknown
town: the high, vacant air arrests me—where’s home?

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 ©1995 by Kathy Mangan, from her most recent book of poems Above the Tree Line, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1995. Reprinted by permission of Kathy Mangan 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.