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American Life in Poetry

Descriptive poetry depends for its effects in part upon the vividness of details. Here Virginia poet Claudia Emerson describes the type of old building all of us have seen but may not have stopped to look at carefully — and thoughtfully.


One rusty horseshoe hangs on a nail

above the door, still losing its luck,

and a work-collar swings, an empty

old noose. The silence waits, wild to be broken by hoofbeat and heavy harness slap, will founder but remain; while, outside, above the stable, eight, nine, now ten buzzards swing low in lazy loops, a loose black warp of patience, bearing the blank sky like a pall of wind on mourning wings. But the bones of this place are long picked clean. Only the hayrake’s ribs still rise from the rampant grasses.


Poem copyright 1997 by Claudia Emerson Andrews, a 2005 Witter Bynner Fellow of the Library of Congress. Reprinted from Pharoah, Pharoah (1997) by permission of the author, whose newest book, Late Wife, will appear this fall; both collections are published by Louisiana State University’s Southern Messenger Poets. 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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