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American Life in Poetry: Mysterious Neighbors

Connie Wanek is one of my favorite poets. She lives in Duluth and has a keen eye for what goes on around her. Here's a locked and loaded scene from rural America.

Mysterious Neighbors

Country people rise early

as their distant lights testify.

They don't hold water in common. Each house

has a personal source, like a bank account,

a stone vault. Some share eggs,

some share expertise,

and some won't even wave.

A walk for the mail elevates the heart rate.

Last November I saw a woman down the road

walk out to her mailbox dressed in blaze orange

cap to boot, a cautious soul.

Bullets can't read her No Trespassing sign.

Strange to think they're in the air

like lead bees with a fatal sting.

Our neighbor across the road sits in his kitchen

with his rifle handy and the window open.

You never know when. Once

he shot a trophy with his barrel resting on the sill.

He's in his seventies, born here, joined the Navy,

came back. Hard work never hurt a man

until suddenly he was another broken tool.

His silhouette against the dawn

droops as though drought-stricken, each step

deliberate, down the driveway to his black mailbox,

prying it open. Checking a trap.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. Poem copyright ©2010 by Connie Wanek whose most recent book of poetry is On Speaking Terms, Copper Canyon Press, 2010. Reprinted from New Ohio Review, No. 7, Spring 2010, by permission of Connie Wanek and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2009 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.