American Life in Poetry: The Girl From Panama

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Clemens Starck of Oregon has fifty years' experience working with his hands, as a merchant seaman and then a carpenter, and he knows work and working people.  Here's a typical poem, from his collected poetry, Cathedrals & Parking Lots, from Empty Bowl Press.


The Girl from Panama
I'm talking with Mike over coffee.
His wife recently left him. He's lonely.
We're both carpenters, a couple of old guys in baseball caps
plying the trade.
We can frame a wall and hang a door, we can
read a set of blueprints.
But when it comes to women . . .
I'm thinking about my mother, who is 91
and very frail. I'm thinking
about my wife, my daughters, my granddaughter,
my sister, old girlfriends, my ex-wife,
and the girl from Panama
in the reading room of the New Orleans public library
forty-five years ago
who slipped a note to me across the table, asking:
"Are you a philosophy?"
Rain splatters against the storefront
of the coffee shop. Mike and I are silent
for a long time
before going back to work.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2017 by Emily Grosholz, "Here and There (from "June"), from The Stars of Earth: New and Selected Poems, (Word Galaxy Press, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Emily Grosholz and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 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.

Ted Kooser was born in Ames, Iowa, in 1939. He received his B.A. from Iowa State and his M.A. in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  His many honors include two NEA fellowships in poetry, a Pushcart Prize, the Stanley Kunitz Prize from Columbia, the Boatwright Prize from Shenandoah, the Pulitzer Prize, and an appointment as U. S. Poet Laureate.


◄ Poems for the NHS: ed. Matt Barnard, Onslaught Press

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Big Sal

Tue 4th Dec 2018 11:48

Now I know why I keep seeing Poetry Foundation advertisements. Other than the blatant commercialism that is.?

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M.C. Newberry

Thu 29th Nov 2018 17:37

An intriguing glimpse of "what might have been" in these lines, prompting the thought that similar situations, conversations and
silent thinking must happen all over the place.

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