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Originally published June 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 26, 2007 at 2:20 PM

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American Life in Poetry

Each of the senses has a way of evoking time and place. In this bittersweet poem by Jeffrey Harrison of Massachusetts, birdsong offers reassurance...

Each of the senses has a way of evoking time and place. In this bittersweet poem by Jeffrey Harrison of Massachusetts, birdsong offers reassurance as the speaker copes with loss.

TED KOOSER, U.S. Poet Laureate

Walking past the open window, she is surprised

by the song of the white-throated sparrow

and stops to listen. She has been thinking of

the dead ones she loves — her father who lived

over a century, and her oldest son, suddenly gone

at forty-seven — and she can't help thinking

she has called them back, that they are calling her

in the voices of these birds passing through Ohio

on their spring migration ... because, after years

of summers in upstate New York, the white-throat

has become something like the family bird.

Her father used to stop whatever he was doing

and point out its clear, whistling song. She hears it

again: "Poor Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody."

She tries not to think, "Poor Andy," but she

has already thought it, and now she is weeping.

But then she hears another, so clear, it's as if

the bird were in the room with her, or in her head,

telling her that everything will be all right.

She cannot see them from her second-story window —

they are hidden in the new leaves of the old maple,

or behind the white blossoms of the dogwood —

but she stands and listens, knowing they will stay

for only a few days before moving on.

Jeffrey Harrison

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 Jeffrey Harrison. Reprinted from Incomplete Knowledge, Four Way Books, 2006, with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Introduction copyright 2006 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.

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