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One of Everybody

What is it about those we sometimes deem the “lesser” individuals of society that usually makes them the most indiscriminate? I’ve had this installment from the American Life in Poetry project sitting in my mailbox for a while. It is one of my favorites of Mr. Kooser’s selections.

The homeless, the “crazy,” the children… they so often tend to see past the outward appearances or trapping s of status and find a commonality in being a person. I see it in my own children. We went to the local McDonald’s playland yesterday for lunch, and I noticed how easily the children play together even though they don’t know one another. They never notice the color of the other’s skin or the type of clothes they are wearing. They wave at strangers. They always watch out for Baby Girl, even though (at 19 months) she slows down the climbing and sliding process. They always ask “are you ok,” when someone falls down.

I’ve noticed that when we suddenly “arrive” at the station in life we feel we deserve with the requisite education, religion, possessions, network or reputation in tow, sometimes we forget those simple commonalities, the simple discipline of indiscrimination. It’s easy to see how the equal opportunity gathering of signatures was so memorable to the poet. She immortalized the open-hearted decision that all signatures were welcome and valued the same. She took pride in including hers among the thousands. It’s a much-needed reminder that “I am one of everybody.”

American Life in Poetry: Column 243
BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Lots of contemporary poems are anecdotal, a brief narration of some event, and what can make them rise above anecdote is when they manage to convey significance, often as the poem closes. Here is an example of one like that, by Marie Sheppard Williams, who lives in Minneapolis.

Everybody

I stood at a bus corner
one afternoon, waiting
for the #2. An old
guy stood waiting too.
I stared at him. He
caught my stare, grinned,
gap-toothed. Will you
sign my coat? he said.
Held out a pen. He wore
a dirty canvas coat that
had signatures all over
it, hundreds, maybe
thousands.
I’m trying
to get everybody, he
said.
I signed. On a
little space on a pocket.
Sometimes I remember:
I am one of everybody.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2008 by David Lee Garrison, whose most recent book of poems is Sweeping the Cemetery: New and Selected Poems, Browser Books Publishing, 2007. Poem reprinted from Rattle, Vol. 14, No. 2, Winter 2008, by permission of David Lee Garrison 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.

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