"Joey, 4th Grade, 1992"

May 22, 2013

Note: I had scheduled this poem before the tornadoes in Oklahoma. I'm going to run it as planned, because it seems even more timely now. My heart goes out to those in Moore, OK and anywhere else where people are coping with the aftereffects of disaster. 

Laura Dimmit is from Joplin, Missouri, and her family survived the fierce tornado of May, 2011. The entire area was strewn with debris, and here’s a poem about just one little piece that fell from the sky. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

School photo, found after the Joplin tornado 

                                             “Joey, 4th grade, 1992”

He’s been on the fridge since it happened,
sneaking glances from underneath the cat
magnet at our dinners, coffee habits, arguments.
We posted him on the database of items found,
hoping that someone would recognize his messy
hair, Batman t-shirt, blue eyes, but no one
answered the post or claimed him.
Somewhere a childhood photo album is not
quite complete, or a grandmother’s mantelpiece;
an uncle’s wallet. One afternoon I got restless,
flipped through my old yearbooks, trying to find him,
looking to see how he might have aged: did he lose
the chubby cheeks? dye his hair? how long
did he have to wear braces? But he’s too young
to have passed me in the halls, the picture just
a stranger, a small reminder of the whirling aftermath
when Joplin was clutching at scraps: everything displaced,
even this poor kid who doesn’t even know he’s lost.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Laura Dimmit, and reprinted by permission of the poet. 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.

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  1. Wow - what a find. Thanks for sharing. So sad about Oklahoma!

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  3. I couldn't believe the timing (unfortunately).

  4. Kathy, I remember reading this poem when it came out in my weekly poetry column and was moved then. But now it has even more meaning. I know a woman in Moore who lost her house and car. Both she and her husband are fine, but they will have so much to go through over the next months. It's so hard to imagine what that tornado must have been like, and I live in Oklahoma. No damage in my area, but watching the weather news over those couple of days was just heartbreaking. Thanks for posting this poem.

  5. Oh, Cheryl, I'm sorry to hear about your friend. I looked at a map when I read about the tornadoes and I was pretty sure you were spared, so I'm glad to hear that was the case. I can't imagine losing everything like that. My heart goes out to all the storm victims.