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American Life in Poetry

by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate

Many of us are collectors, attaching special meaning to the inanimate objects we acquire. Here, Texas poet Janet McCann gives us insight into the significance of one woman’s collection. The abundance and variety of detail suggest the clutter of such a life.

The Woman Who Collects Noah’s Arks

Has them in every room of her house, wall hangings, statues, paintings, quilts and blankets, ark lampshades, mobiles, Christmas tree ornaments, t-shirts, sweaters, necklaces, books, comics, a creamer, a sugar bowl, candles, napkins, tea-towels and tea-tray, nightgown, pillow, lamp.

Animals two-by-two in plaster, wood, fabric, oil paint, copper, glass, plastic, paper, tinfoil, leather, mother-of-pearl, styrofoam, clay, steel, rubber, wax, soap.

Why I cannot ask, though I would like to know, the answer has to be simply because. Because at night when she lies with her husband in bed, the house rocks out into the bay, the one that cuts in here to the flatlands at the center of Texas. Because the whole wood structure drifts off, out under the stars, beyond the last lights, the two of them pitching and rolling as it all heads seaward. Because they hear trumpets and bellows from the farther rooms.

Because the sky blackens, but morning finds them always safe on the raindrenched land, bird on the windowsill.


Reprinted from PoemMemoirStory by permission of the author. Janet McCann’s most recent book is Emily’s Dress (Pecan Grove Press, 2005). Poem copyright (c) 2003 by Janet McCann. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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