Literature 5-22-2006

What Light: This Week’s Poem: Joyce Sutphen

Joyce Sutphen is the eighth poet chosen in this once-a-week yearlong survey of Minnesota’s poets and their work. The series is sponsored by Magers & Quinn Booksellers.

Joyce Sutphen

Death Inc.

Without his scythe and crooked knife
he’s simply an ordinary guy.

You see him at the bus stop,
and he’s reading a folded newspaper,

or he’s in the car next to you
on the freeway—first he passes

you, and then you pass him.
It goes on like that for a long time,

but though you glance over at him,
he never looks back at you,

which (it turns out) is a good thing.
All the while you’ve been

waiting for the carriage to stop
(kindly) at your door—the carriage

that would take you past the schoolyard
and the fields, accompanied by

the gentle clip-clop of horse’s hooves,
but suddenly you realize he might be

driving an eighteen wheeler, high on
meth, tires screeching. Yes— it could

happen like that, but it’s just
as likely he might be the shadow

of a tree you planted years ago
falling across the green lawn.

Joyce Sutphen’s first book of poetry, Straight Out of View, won the Barnard New Women’s Poets Prize (Beacon Press, 1995). Her second book of poems, Coming Back to the Body (Holy Cow! Press, 2000), was a finalist for a Minnesota Book Award, and her third book, Naming the Stars (Holy Cow! Press 2004), won the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Poetry and other journals. She holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance drama and teaches literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.