American Life in Poetry: 'Finding the Scarf'

U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-06
December 03. 2012 6:06PM

A Kansas poet, Wyatt Townley has written a number of fine poems about the swift and relentless passage of time, one of the great themes of the world's poetry, and I especially like this one.

Finding the Scarf

The woods are the book

we read over and over as children.

Now trees lie at angles, felled

by lightning, torn by tornados,

silvered trunks turning back

to earth. Late November light

slants through the oaks

as our small parade, father, mother, child,

shushes along, the wind searching treetops

for the last leaf. Childhood lies

on the forest floor, not evergreen

but oaken, its branches latched

to a graying sky. Here is the scarf

we left years ago like a bookmark,

meaning to return the next day,

having just turned our heads

toward a noise in the bushes,

toward the dinnerbell in the distance,

toward what we knew and did not know

we knew, in the spreading twilight

that returns changed to a changed place.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright 2007 by Wyatt Townley from her most recent book of poems, "The Afterlives of Trees," Woodley Press, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Wyatt Townley and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2012 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 manuscripts.


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