American Life in Poetry: Column 242

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 (, 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.