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The Poetry Column

Published Dec. 10, 2006

U.S. poet laureate, 2004-2006

The news coverage of Hurricane Katrina gave America a vivid look at our poor and powerless neighbors. Here Alex Phillips of Massachusetts condenses his observations of our country's underclass into a wise, tough little poem.

Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate, 2004-2006

Work Shy

To be poor and raise skinny children.

To own nothing but skinny clothing.

Skinny food falls in between cracks.

Friends cannot visit your skinny home.

They cannot fit through the door.

Your skinny thoughts evaporate into

the day or the night that you cannot

see with your tiny eyes.

God sticks you with the smallest pins

and your blood, the red is diluted.

Imagine a tiny hole, the other side

of which is a fat world and how

lost you would feel. Of course,

I'm speaking to myself.

How lost I would feel, and how dangerous.

Reprinted from "Open City," Winter 2005-06, No. 21, by permission of the poet. Copyright 2005 by Alex Phillips, whose "Under a Paper Trellis" is forthcoming from Factory Hollow Press. This 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.

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