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American Life in Poetry: Woman Feeding Chickens

Your high school English teacher made an effort to teach you and your bored classmates about sonnets, which have specific patterns of rhyme, and he or she used as an example a great poem by Keats or Shelley, about some heroic subject. To counter the memory of those long and probably tedious hours, I offer you this perfectly made sonnet by Roy Scheele, a Nebraska poet, about a more humble, common subject.

Woman Feeding Chickens

Her hand is at the feedbag at her waist,

sunk to the wrist in the rustling grain

that nuzzles her fingertips when laced

around a sifting handful. It's like rain,

like cupping water in your hand, she thinks,

the cracks between the fingers like a sieve,

except that less escapes you through the chinks

when handling grain. She likes to feel it give

beneath her hand's slow plummet, and the smell,

so rich a fragrance she has never quite

got used to it, under the seeming spell

of the charm of the commonplace. The white

hens bunch and strut, heads cocked, with tilted eyes,

till her hand sweeps out and the small grain flies.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Dana Gioia, whose most recent book of poetry is Interrogations at Noon, Graywolf Press, 2001. Poem reprinted from Poetry, September, 2010, by permission of Dana Gioia 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.