American Life in Poetry

By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

I’ve had my eye on Americans’ obsessions for more than 70 years, and I can’t remember a time when public lying got as much attention as it does today. Attention yes, but consequences, no. I recently happened upon this clever poem about lying by Judith Askew. It’s from her book On the Loose, from Bass River Press, South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, and she, too, is from Massachusetts.

Bakery of Lies

My favorite is the cream puff lie,
the kind inflated with hot air,
expanded to make an heroic-sized story.

Another is the cannoli, a long lie,
well-packed with nutty details,
lightly wrapped in flakey truth.

A macaroon isn’t a little white lie,
but it’s covered
with self-serving coconut.

The apple tart carries slices
of sour gossip, only
slightly sweetened with truth.

Then there’s the napoleon,
an Iago lie of pernicious intent,
layer upon layer of dark deceit.

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 ©2016 by Judith Askew, “Bakery of Lies” from On the Loose, (Bass River Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Judith Askew and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2019 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 to 2006. Unsolicited manuscripts are not accepted.