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American Life in Poetry, by Ted Kooser

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry  magazine. Introduction copyright © 2013 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.


Poor Richard’s Almanac said, “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas,” but that hasn’t kept some of us from sleeping with our dogs. Here’s a poem about the pleasure of that, by Joyce Sidman, who lives and sleeps in Montana. Her book, Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night, won a 2011 Newbery Honor Award.

Dog in Bed

Nose tucked under tail,

you are a warm, furred planet

centered in my bed.

All night I orbit, tangle-limbed,

in the slim space

allotted to me.


If I accidentally

bump you from sleep,

you shift, groan,

drape your chin on my hip.


O, that languid, movie-star drape!

I can never resist it.

Digging my fingers into your fur,


I wonder:

How do you dream?

What do you adore?

Why should your black silk ears

feel like happiness?


This is how it is with love.

Once invited,

it steps in gently,

circles twice,

and takes up as much space

as you will give it.


Poem copyright ©2003 by Joyce Sidman, whose most recent book of poems is Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2011. Poem reprinted from The World According to Dog, Houghton Mifflin, 2003



* * *

Lots of us find ourselves under the interested fingers of dermatologists, who prosper on the fun we once had out in the sun.
Here George Bilgere of Ohio, one of our most amusing American poets, sits back in his skin doctor’s chair and reminisces about a party that took place years ago.


Basal Cell

​The sun is still burning in my skin

​even though it set half-an-hour ago,​

and Cindy and Bob and Bev and John

​are pulling on their sweatshirts​

and gathering around the fire pit.

John hands me a cold one

​and now Bev comes into my arms

​and I can feel the sun’s heat,​

and taste the Pacific on her cheek.

I am not in Vietnam,

nor is John or Bob, because​

our deferments came through,

​and we get to remain boys​

for at least another summer

​like this one in Santa Cruz,​

surfing the afternoons in a sweet

​blue dream I’m remembering now,

as the nurse puts my cheek to sleep,

and the doctor begins to burn​

those summers away.

Poem copyright ©2012 by George Bilgere, whose most recent book of poems is The White Museum, Autumn House Press, 2010.


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