American Life in Poetry: Column 324

Here’s a fine poem by my fellow Nebraskan, Barbara Schmitz, who here offers us a picture of people we’ve all observed but haven’t thought to write about.


It is very hot – 92 today – to be wearing

a stocking cap, but the adolescent swaggering

through the grocery store automatic door

doesn’t seem to mind; does not even appear

to be perspiring. The tugged-down hat

is part of his carefully orchestrated outfit:

bagging pants, screaming t-shirt, high-topped

shoes. The young woman who yells to her friends

from an open pickup window is attired

for summer season in strapless stretch

tube top, slipping down toward bountiful

cleavage valley. She tugs it up in front

as she races toward the two who have

just passed a cigarette between them

like a baton on a relay team. Her white

chest gleams like burnished treasure

as they giggle loudly there in the corner

and I glance down to see what costume

I have selected to present myself to

the world today. I smile; it’s my sky blue

shirt with large deliberately faded Peace sign,

smack dab in the middle, plus grey suede

Birkenstocks—a message that “I lived through

the sixties and am so proud.” None of the

young look my way. I round the corner and

walk into Evening descending.

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 ©2009 by Barbara Schmitz, whose most recent book of poems is How Much Our Dancing Has Improved, Backwaters Press, 2005. Poem reprinted from the South Dakota Review, Vol. 47, no. 3, 2009, by permission of Barbara Schmitz and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2011 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.