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American Sentences

A Few Words from Steve Kowit

Serving House Journal continues to publish what we deem to be the strongest, most memorable poems that are submitted to us. In addition, for this issue [#4, Fall 2011] we solicited “American sentences,” 17-syllable sentences that have the luminous and epiphanic charm of poetry. Invented by Allen Ginsberg, they are a sort of American haiku—or perhaps, more accurately, American lowku.

Any 17-syllable sentence that is worth reading and rereading, worth saving and savoring and showing to friends, is an American sentence we were after for this issue. And now, we’re pleased to offer you the following delicacies...

Trilogy Off Flatbush

Through her new cedar fence comes my neighbor’s harsh voice, scolding the workmen.

Turning my compost, I ignore the perfidy of provosts and deans.

October surprise: a pregnant jogger, shirt hiked, bares her belly-eye.

Jan Clausen


Six little girls sit on a short brick wall eating egg salad sandwiches.


The cabinet hangs open reproachful, while I eat more chocolate.

Colleen Dawson


Back to school shopping tugs at my guts like the last flume ride of summer.


In E.S.L. class where new friends can’t converse, they hold hands, beaming joy.

J.C. Elkin


Highway Fantasy

At night, cars with one burned out headlight pretend to be motorcycles.

Ori Fienberg


Summer swimming in the neighbors’ pool while bees guard the honeysuckle.


Rustling leaves of our coral tree in night breeze became Freddy Krueger.


The trailers lined up in desert dirt were crooked rows of dirty teeth.


Grandfather takes his daily meds with Jack, fighting with each god-damned cap.

Amanda Fuller


What Another Vet Said
after Hearing Me Read
My Vietnam Poetry

No one shot at me,
but everything I had was gone
when I came home.

Terry Hertzler


I’d follow you if I could, across green air, through our last twenty years.

Danielle Hunt


The yoga mat grins up, remembering the poses we showed it last night.

Jen Lagedrost


My lawyer advised me to say nothing further on the Scofield case.

Jake Oliver


I dropped my heart on the floor, face down, and outlined its corpse with chalk.

Laura Praytor


When I wake up in the morning I like to congratulate myself.

Sean T. Randolph


I once became an astronaut in my backyard, among the grass and snails.

Scott Stewart


For more about this form of haiku, see:

• Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within (chapters 4 and 5)
• Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop (chapter 8)
“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury