American Life in Poetry: The Good Life

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Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Tracy K. Smith won the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poems, Life on Mars, from which I’ve selected this week’s poem, which presents a payday in the way many of us at some time have experienced it. The poet lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Editor’s Note: This column (197) is a reprint from the American Life in Poetry archive as we bid farewell to Ted Kooser, and work to finalize the new website and forthcoming columns curated by Kwame Dawes.

The Good Life

When some people talk about money
They speak as if it were a mysterious lover
Who went out to buy milk and never
Came back, and it makes me nostalgic
For the years I lived on coffee and bread,
Hungry all the time, walking to work on payday
Like a woman journeying for water
From a village without a well, then living
One or two nights like everyone else
On roast chicken and red wine.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It 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. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Tracy K. Smith from her most recent book of poems, Life on Mars, Graywolf Press, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Tracy K. Smith and the publisher. Introduction copyright @2021 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.