American Life in Poetry: Column 207


People singing, not professionally but just singing for joy, it’s a wonderful celebration of life. In this poem by Sebastian Matthews of North Carolina, a father and son happen upon a handful of men singing in a cafe, and are swept up into their pleasure and community.

Barbershop Quartet,
East Village Grille

Inside the standard lunch hour din they rise, four seamless voices fused into one, floating somewhere between a low hum and a vibration, like the sound of a train rumbling beneath noisy traffic.
The men are hunched around a booth table, a fire circle of coffee cups and loose fists, leaning in around the thing they are summoning forth from inside this suddenly beating four-chambered heart. I’ve taken Avery out on a whim, ordered quesadillas and onion rings, a kiddy milk with three straws.
We’re already deep in the meal, extra napkins and wipes for the grease coating our faces and hands like mid-summer sweat. And because we’re happy, lost in the small pleasures of father and son, at first their voices seem to come from inside us. Who’s that boy singing? Avery asks, unable to see these men wrapped in their act. I let him keep looking, rapt. And when no one is paying attention, I put down my fork and take my boy’s hand, and together we dive into the song. Or maybe it pours into us, and we’re the ones brimming with it.

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 (c)2008 by Sebastian Matthews, whose collection of poems, “We Generous,” was published by Red Hen Press, 2007. Poem reprinted from “The Chattahoochee Review,” V. 28, no. 2,3, 2008 by permission of Sebastian Matthews.  Introduction copyright (c) 2009 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.


~ by ericedits on March 13, 2009.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: