Twenty years ago my wife and I had visitors from New York, and their car broke down on a country road about a mile from our home. One of them panicked because there were no phone booths from which to call for help. Nebraska is a place where there can be a lot of room between one landline and the next. Carol V. Davis of California did a residency at Homestead National Monument, and this is one of the poems that came out of it.
I do better in animal time,
a creeping dawn, slow ticking toward dusk.
In the middle of the day on the Nebraska prairie,
I’m unnerved by subdued sounds, as if listening
through water, even the high-pitched drone of the
cicadas faint; the blackbirds half-heartedly singing.
As newlyweds, my parents drove cross country to
Death Valley, last leg of their escape from New York,
the thick soups of their immigrant mothers, generations
of superstitions that squeezed them from all sides.
They camped under stars that meant no harm.
It was the silence that alerted them to danger.
They climbed back into their tiny new car, locked
its doors and blinked their eyes until daylight.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Carol V. Davis, “Animal Time,” from Harpur Palate, (Vol. 13, No. 1, summer/fall 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Carol V. Davis and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2015 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 submissions.