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American Life in Poetry -- Brownie Troop

By Ted Kooser

There have been many poems written in which a photograph is described in detail, and this one by Margaret Kaufman, of the Bay Area in California, uses the snapshot to carry her further, into the details of memory.

Photo, Brownie Troop, St. Louis, 1949

I'm going to put Karen Prasse right here

in front of you on this page

so that you won't mistake her for something else,

an example of precocity, for instance,

a girl who knew that the sky (blue crayon)

was above the earth (green crayon)

and did not, as you had drawn it, come right down

to the green on which your three bears stood.

You can tell from her outfit that she is a Brownie.

You can tell from her socks that she knows how

to line things up, from her mouth that she may

grow up mean or simply competent. Do not mistake

her for an art critic: when she told you

the first day of first grade that your drawing

was "wrong," you stood your ground and told her

to look out the window. Miss Voss told your mom

you were going to be a good example of something,

although you cannot tell from the way your socks sag,

nor from your posture, far from Brownie-crisp.

This is not about you for a change, but about

mis-perception, of which Karen was an early example.

Who knows? She may have meant to be helpful,

though that is not always a virtue,

and gets in the way of some art.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry of Poetry magazine. Poem copyright 2008 by Margaret Kaufman. Ted Kooser, served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004-2006.