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Poetry Moment: Lee Peterson and 'Things That Go'

 Poet Lee Peterson
Poet Lee Peterson

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Things That Go” by Lee Peterson.

A New Jersey native, Lee Peterson came to Pennsylvania in 2004 as Penn State Altoona's Emerging Writer-in-Residence. She has called the Allegheny Mountains and valleys home ever since. She teaches writing and works with international students at Penn State Altoona and lives in State College with her husband and their 13-year-old daughter. Peterson’s first book, Rooms and Fields: Dramatic Monologues from the War in Bosnia, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize. Two new collections of poetry are forthcoming: a chapbook, The Needles Road, and her second full-length collection, In the Hall of North American Mammals, winner of the Cider Press Review Book Award.

“Things That Go” is a spare yet resonant lyric poem, where each detail and description constructs two worlds at once. The literal one is a domestic interior, a mother and young daughter at bathtime and bedtime in a cloistered scene. The figurative realm is the world the mother knows lies outside. The mother-speaker-poet of the poem is the conduit who allows us to see into both at once. The toys capsizing in the tub signal the larger world’s catastrophes. The toy train’s “charging engine” prompts the mother’s reflections on their aging and loss, neither of which she has the power to stop. But she desires to keep them at bay. Her desire is enclosed in the poem’s final image of snow as ‘white silence.’ That silence, like the mother’s protective love, is a talisman and momentary balm.


Things That Go

In the bath, toy boats and planes and cars
shift through bubbles.
Catastrophes in miniature?
What is this fist around my heart, and hers?

Age won’t be stopped, nor loss.
Yet I strike a wide stance—caped maniac—
one hand against the train’s charging engine.

She says: Choo-choo and I love
             each syllable that lifts from her round mouth.

She sleeps. The snow a white silence.
             Loose and floating. Somehow falling.
Somehow growing thick
and heavy on the earth.

That was “Things That Go” by Lee Peterson.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with me today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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