American Life in Poetry: Discovered

U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser has committed to a series of columns that highlight poetry and its importance in everyday life. From time to time we’ll share the reprinted columns here, and provide you a chance to add your comments. This week’s selection echoes the famous literary moment of Proust and his madeleines, but also reminds us that everyday objects and discoveries can hold a wealth of memory and emotion.

American Life in Poetry: Column 019

At the beginning of the famous novel, “Remembrance of Things Past,” the mere taste of a biscuit started Marcel Proust on a seven-volume remembrance. Here a bulldozer turns up an old doorknob, and look what happens in Shirley Buettner’s imagination.


While clearing the west
quarter for more cropland,
the Cat quarried
a porcelain doorknob

oystered in earth,
grained and crazed
like an historic egg,
with a screwless stem of

rusted and pitted iron.
I turn its cold white roundness
with my palm and
open the oak door

fitted with oval glass,
fretted with wood ivy,
and call my frontier neighbor.
Her voice comes distant but

clear, scolding children
in overalls
and highbutton shoes.
A bucket of fresh eggs and

a clutch of rhubarb rest
on her daisied oil-cloth.
She knew I would knock someday,
wanting in.

From “Walking Out the Dark” (Juniper Press, 1984). Copyright (c) 1984 by Shirley Buettner and reprinted by permission of 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.

3 Responses

  1. oysteredis a fantastic word,

    is a fantastic word, that whole stanza stands out for me. Nice poem. I’ve never heard of Shirley Buettner, forgive my ignorance.

  2. Hi there –I agree — a
    Hi there —

    I agree — a fantastic word, especially when contrasted with the very idea of a doorknob. And I’ve never heard of this poet befor the column came out — but Kooser tends to pick lesser known poets to prove his point of every day simple poetry packing a punch. Glad you liked it.

  3. Terms of UseI love his terms
    Terms of Use

    I love his terms of use, that any paper can reprint the articles for free (assuming they can’t sell the space for advertising). If you were a newspaper, especially a minor newspaper, why would you not print this? And if he is the US poet Laureate, couldn’t there be a law ensuring the printing? And is Ebenezer Cooke clearly the best poet laureate ever?

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