American Life in Poetry: Column 334

Those of us who have gone back home to attend a reunion of classmates may have felt the strangeness of being a vaguely familiar person among others who, too, seem vaguely familiar. Dana Gioia, who served the country for four years as the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, is an accomplished poet and a noted advocate for poetry.


This is my past where no one knows me.

These are my friends whom I can’t name – 

Here in a field where no one chose me,

The faces older, the voices the same.

Why does this stranger rise to greet me?

What is the joke that makes him smile,

As he calls the children together to meet me,

Bringing them forward in single file?

I nod pretending to recognize them,

Not knowing exactly what I should say.

Why does my presence seem to surprise them?

Who is the woman who turns away?

Is this my home or an illusion?

The bread on the table smells achingly real.

Must I at last solve my confusion,

Or is confusion all I can feel?

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 ©2010 by Dana Gioia, whose most recent book of poetry is Interrogations at Noon, Graywolf Press, 2001. Poem reprinted from Poetry, September, 2010, by permission of Dana Gioia 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.