Maureen Ash: Church Basement

Ted Kooser is not only a great poet, he is also a great judge of poetry. This is one of the finest poems I’ve read in a while. Copied with permission from ALiP.
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Welcome to American Life in Poetry. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.
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American Life in Poetry: Column 424

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
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It’s a difficult task to accurately imagine one’s self back into childhood. Maybe we can get the physical details right, but it’s very hard to recapture the innocence and wonder. Maureen Ash, who lives in Wisconsin, gets it right in this poem.

Church Basement

The church knelt heavy
above us as we attended Sunday School,
circled by age group and hunkered
on little wood folding chairs
where we gave our nickels, said
our verses, heard the stories, sang
the solid, swinging songs.

It could have been God above
in the pews, His restless love sifting
with dust from the joists. We little
seeds swelled in the stone cellar, bursting
to grow toward the light.

Maybe it was that I liked how, upstairs, outside,
an avid sun stormed down, burning the sharp-
edged shadows back to their buildings, or
how the winter air knifed
after the dreamy basement.

Maybe the day we learned whatever
would have kept me believing
I was just watching light
poke from the high, small window
and tilt to the floor where I could make it
a gold strap on my shoe, wrap
my ankle, embrace
any part of me.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Maureen Ash. Reprinted by permission of Maureen Ash. Introduction copyright © 2013 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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American Life in Poetry provides newspapers and online publications with a free weekly column featuring contemporary American poems. The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry: American Life in Poetry seeks to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. There are no costs for reprinting the columns; we do require that you register your publication here and that the text of the column be reproduced without alteration.

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