KOOSER

Nebraska's Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate from 2004-06, offers "American Life in Poetry," a column on contemporary poetry.

When grief is so heavy that we need to set it down, poetry is a good place to set it. Here's a fine poem by Minnesota poet Sharon Chmielarz from her book with photographer Ken Smith, "Visibility: Ten Miles," published by North Star Press of St. Cloud.

Playing His Heart Out

That day we were trapped between chartreuse living room walls and the godly cleanliness of afghans saving sofas and chairs.

We were talking about anything except Uncle Carl — gone, how we'd miss him — when Uncle Gus came down the hall and stood in the archway, his wiry body strapped under a black accordion. "Haven't played," he said, "for a long time." So he played a waltz and I squirmed in my chair under the slow flow of grief. He played a polka and I heard my sister clapping lightly for the mourner bending over the keys. His cheek-bones, red as Helgoland's cliffs on the North Sea. Gulls whirled and screamed around the black load on his heart.

Poem copyright ©2015 by Sharon Chmielarz. Poem reprinted by permission of Sharon Chmielarz and the publisher.

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