Thursday, February 02, 2006

American Life in Poetry: Column 045

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Poets are experts at holding mirrors to the world. Here Anne Caston, from Alaska, shows us a commonplace scene. Haven't we all been in this restaurant for the Sunday buffet? Caston overlays the picture with language that, too, is ordinary, even sloganistic, and overworn. But by zooming in on the joint of meat and the belly-up fishes floating in butter, she compels us to look more deeply into what is before us, and a room that at first seemed humdrum becomes rich with inference.


Sunday Brunch at the Old Country Buffet

Madison, Wisconsin, 1996

Here is a genial congregation,
well fed and rosy with health and appetite,
robust children in tow. They have come
and all the generations of them, to be fed,
their old ones too who are eligible now
for a small discount, having lived to a ripe age.
Over the heaped and steaming plates, one by one,
heads bow, eyes close; the blessings are said.

Here there is good will; here peace
on earth, among the leafy greens, among the fruits
of the gardens of America's heartland. Here is abundance,
here is the promised
land of milk and honey, out of which
a flank of the fatted calf, thick still
on its socket and bone, rises like a benediction
over the loaves of bread and the little fishes, belly-up in butter.


Reprinted from "Flying Out with the Wounded," New York University Press, 1997. Copyright (c) 1997 by Anne Caston. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

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