In this fine poem about camping by Washington state poet E. G. Burrows, vivid memories of the speaker's father, set down one after another...

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In this fine poem about camping by Washington state poet E.G. Burrows, vivid memories of the speaker’s father, set down one after another, move gracefully toward speculation about how experiences cling to us despite any efforts to put them aside. And then, quite suddenly, the father is gone, forever. But life goes on, the coffee is hot, and the bird that opens the poem is still there at its close, singing for life.

— Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate

Camping out

I watched the nesting redstart

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when we camped by Lake Winnepesaukee.

The tent pegs pulled out in soft soil.

Rain made pawprints on the canvas.

So much clings to the shoes,

the old shoes must be discarded,

but we’re fools to think that does it:

burning the scraps.

I listened for the rain at Mt. Monadnock,

for the barred owl on a tent peak

among scrub pines in Michigan.

I can hear my father stir

and the cot creak. The flap opens.

He goes out and never returns

though the coffee steams on the grill

and the redstart sings in the alders.

E.G. Burrows

Reprinted from “Passager,” 2001, by permission of the author. Copyright © 2001 by E. G. Burrows, whose most recent book is “Sailing As Before,” Devil’s Millhopper Press, 2001. 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 in Northwest Life.