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Playing to the River | Ted Kooser

There’s something wonderful about happening upon a musician playing for his or her own pleasure, completely absorbed in the music. Jeff Daniel Marion is a fine poet from east Tennessee. And here’s a woman playing the bagpipes.


Playing to the River

She stands by the riverbank,
notes from her bagpipes lapping
across to us as we wait


for the traffic light to change.
She does not know we hear—
she is playing to the river,


a song for the water, the flow
of an unknown melody to the rocky
bluffs beyond, for the mist


that was this morning, shroud
of past lives: fishermen
and riverboat gamblers, tugboat captains


and log raftsmen, pioneer and native
slipping through the eddies of time.
She plays for them all, both dirge


and surging hymn, for what has passed
and is passing as we slip
into the currents of traffic,
the changed light bearing us away.


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 ©2012 by Jeff Daniel Marion, whose most recent book of poems is Father, Wind Publications, 2009. First appeared in Still: The Journal, an online publication, Winter 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jeff Daniel Marion.   Introduction copyright © 2013 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.
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