American Life in Poetry: At the Edge of Town

Poet Laureate Ted Kooser highlights a poem each week in his American Life in Poetry series. Kooser often chooses poems from lesser known poets who focus on simple everyday topics. From time to time we’ll post the reprinted columns here and give you a chance to share your thoughts. This week’s selection by Don Welch delicately describes a life’s work that might easily be overlooked.


American Life in Poetry: Column 056

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

When I complained about some of the tedious jobs I had as a boy, my mother would tell me, Ted, all work is honorable. In this poem, Don Welch gives us a man who’s been fixing barbed wire fences all his life.

At the Edge of Town

Hard to know which is more gnarled,
the posts he hammers staples into
or the blue hummocks which run
across his hands like molehills.

Work has reduced his wrists
to bones, cut out of him
the easy flesh and brought him
down to this, the crowbar’s teeth

caught just behind a barb.
Again this morning
the crowbar’s neck will make
its blue slip into wood,

there will be that moment
when too much strength
will cause the wire to break.
But even at 70, he says,

he has to have it right,
and more than right.
This morning, in the pewter light,
he has the scars to prove it.

From “Gutter Flowers,” Logan House, 2005. Copyright (c) 2005 by Don Welch and reprinted by permission of Logan House and the author. 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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