Sunday, 25 September 2022

American Life in Poetry: The Snowy Egret

Kwame Dawes. Courtesy photo.

Nan­cy Keat­ing has clear­ly rec­og­nized a fun­da­men­tal human val­ue of poet­ry, the capac­i­ty for art to help us cope with the mem­o­ries of our guilt-induc­ing acts.

In her poem ​“The Snowy Egret” the con­fes­sion of a man in a mag­a­zine killing a bird in his youth, serves as a source of empath­ic release for the poet from her own unspo­ken regret.

For­get­ting, she says, is not real­is­tic. This, as it hap­pens, is a handy truth for poets whose cur­ren­cy is memory.

The Snowy Egret
By Nan­cy Keat­ing

Give me another word for regret,
something more like forget
only better, more effective,

since in fact we really don’t forget
the bad things we did
or caused. I read in a letter

to The Sun Magazine where a man
will always remember the egret
lying, a silent heap of cirrus clouds,

at his 12-year-old feet. It was his first
and last time shooting a gun.
His confession stabbed me

into a memory of unremembered shame
and the ache in my stomach telling me
I had joined humanity.


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. Poem copyright ©2021 by Nancy Keating, “The Snowy Egret” from White Chick (Elixir Press, 2021.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W. Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.

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