American Life in Poetry: Column 243

Lots of contemporary poems are anecdotal, a brief narration of some event, and what can make them rise above anecdote is when they manage to convey significance, often as the poem closes. Here is an example of one like that, by Marie Sheppard Williams, who lives in Minneapolis.




I stood at a bus corner

one afternoon, waiting

for the #2. An old

guy stood waiting too.

I stared at him. He

caught my stare, grinned,

gap-toothed. Will you

sign my coat? he said.

Held out a pen. He wore

a dirty canvas coat that

had signatures all over

it, hundreds, maybe


I’m trying

to get everybody, he


I signed. On a

little space on a pocket.

Sometimes I remember:

I am one of everybody.


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 ©2006 by Marie Sheppard Williams. Reprinted from the California Review, Volume 32, no. 4, by permission of Marie Sheppard Williams 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.