We're starting a new weekly column today, designed to give you a little literary treat: a different poem each Friday. "American Life in Poetry," the...

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We’re starting a new weekly column today, designed to give you a little literary treat: a different poem each Friday.

“American Life in Poetry,” the column’s title, is supported by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry Magazine, and the Library of Congress. It’s an initiative of Ted Kooser, the nation’s poet laureate, and each week it will present a poem by a contemporary American poet, with a brief introduction by Kooser.

“Newspapers are close to my heart and my family,” said Kooser, whose wife and son both work in journalism. “As poet laureate I want to show the people who read newspapers that poetry can be for them, can give them a chuckle or an insight.”

Poetry was long a popular staple in the daily press. “Readers enjoyed it,” Kooser said. “They would clip verses, stick them in their diaries, enclose them in letters. They even took time to memorize some of the poems they discovered.”

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In recent years poetry has all but disappeared from newsprint. Yet, Kooser observed, the attraction to it is still strong: “Poetry has remained a perennial expression of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual lives, as witnessed by the tens of thousands of poems written about the tragedy of Sept. 11 that circulated on the Internet.”

Kooser, a native of Ames, Iowa, is a professor in the English department at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. He lives near the village of Garland, Neb., with his wife, Kathleen Rutledge, editor of the Lincoln Journal Star.

Every reader of this column has at one time felt the frightening and paralyzing powerlessness of being a small child, unable to find a way to repair the world. Here a California poet, Dan Gerber, steps into memory to capture such a moment.
— Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

“The Rain Poured Down”

My mother weeping
in the dark hallway, in the arms of a man,

not my father,
as I sat at the top of the stairs unnoticed —
my mother weeping and pleading for what I didn’t know
then and can still only imagine —
for things to be somehow other than they were,
not knowing what I would change,

for, or to, or why,
only that my mother was weeping
in the arms of a man not me,
and the rain brought down the winter sky
and hid me in the walls that looked on,
indifferent to my mother’s weeping,
or mine,
in the rain that brought down the dark afternoon.


Dan Gerber’s most recent book is “Trying to Catch the Horses” (Michigan State University Press, 1999). “The Rain Poured Down” is copyright 2005 by Dan Gerber and reprinted by permission of the author. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry. “American Life in Poetry” appears Fridays.