john koethe | from the porch

17 08 2010

PoetryDispatch No.331 | August 16, 2010

John Koethe


The stores were bright, and not too far from home.
The school was only half a mile from downtown,
A few blocks from the Oldsmobile dealer. In the sky,
The airplanes came in low towards Lindbergh Field,
Passing overhead with a roar that shook the windows.
How inert the earth must look from far away:
The morning mail, the fantasies, the individual days
Too intimate to see, no matter how you tried;
The photos in the album of the young man leaving home.
Yet there was always time to visit them again
In a roundabout way, like the figures in the stars,
Or a life traced back to its imaginary source
In an adolescent reverie, a forgotten book—
As though one’s childhood were a small midwestern town
Some forty years ago, before the elm trees died.
September was a modern classroom and the latest cars,
That made a sort of futuristic dream, circa 1955.
The earth was still uncircled. You could set your course
On the day after tomorrow. And children fell asleep
To the lullaby of people murmuring softly in the kitchen,
While a breeze rustled the pages of Life magazine,
And the wicker chairs stood empty on the screened-in porch.

[from NORTH POINT NORTH, New and Selected Poems, Perennial, 2002]

John Koethe was born in San Diego, California in 1945. He was educated at Princeton and Harvard Universities and is a Professor of Philosophy at UWM. His award-winning poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Brooklyn Review, Cream City Review, Epoch, The New Republic, Paris Review, Southwest Review, TriQuarterly, and The Yale Review. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Blue Vents (1969), The Late Wisconsin Spring (1984), and The Constructor (1999). His 1973 book of poems, Domes, won the 1973 Frank O’Hara Award for Poetry, and his 1997 collection, Falling Water, received the highly coveted 1998 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award from Claremont Graduate University. Additionally, the poem “A Pathetic Landscape” from Falling Water received the 1998 Elizabeth Machette Stover Award from Southwest Review. Prof. Koethe has received Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships and he is also author of the well-received scholarly study, The Continuity of Wittgenstein’s Thought (1996). In presenting the Tufts Award to Falling Water, the award’s panel of judges cited Prof. Koethe’s “precise, unpedantic pavanes and sarabandes, written with a philosopher’s ear for the spare beauty of abstraction … They move the reader both as music and as meaning.” On February 20, 2000, John Koethe was honored by being named Milwaukee’s first poet laureate.