American Life in Poetry: Column 338

We all hope our children’s lives will be better than our own, and invest in that hope in a variety of ways. Here Michael Ryan of California compares what we can provide for them with what we can’t.

Girls’ Middle School Orchestra
They’re all dressed up in carmine

floor-length velvet gowns, their upswirled hair

festooned with matching ribbons:

their fresh hopes and our fond hopes for them

infuse this sort-of-music as if happiness could actually be

Their hearts unscarred under quartz lights

beam through the darkness in which we sit

to show us why we endured at home

the squeaking and squawking and botched notes

that now in concert are almost beautiful,

almost rendering this heartrending music

composed for an archduke who loved it so much

he spent his fortune for the musicians

who could bring it brilliantly to life.

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 Michael Ryan, whose most recent book of poetry is New and Selected Poems, Houghton Mifflin, 2004. Reprinted from The American Poetry Review, Vol. 39, no. 5, Sept./Oct. 2010, by permission of Michael Ryan 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.