from Life in a Field

Katie Peterson

The story, invested in a return, stays interested in what comes back. If you lose something, for example if you lose a baby, you might wish for another. But if you lose another baby after that, and this time you are farther along, there are two different paths the mind might take. The first is to wish for one more baby, one that will stay and be healthy. This baby would continue the story’s original intent, its life, its teething would feel like a fulfillment, a word that has the word “fill” in it, the ear reminds you after you say it. The second path—well, it’s not a path, it’s a person—the second person wishes for two babies, because now two are owed him or her. It doesn’t have to be babies. A poet writes, I lost two cities, lovely ones. There could be no end to this. Two is not the last number. Two is more like the possibility of any greater number. What the story might wish for could become unwieldy. And difficult to distinguish from a desire for reward.

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Katie Peterson

Katie Peterson’s collections of poetry include This One Tree, PermissionThe Accounts, winner of the 2014 Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas, and A Piece of Good News, a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. Her fifth book, Life in a Field, a collaboration with photographer Young Suh, was selected by Rachel Zucker for the 2020 Omnidawn Open Book Prize. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Radcliffe Institute, and Yaddo. This year, her poems have appeared in the Birmingham Poetry Review, Changes Review, Literary Imagination, and the New York Review of Books. She directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at UC Davis where she is Professor of English and a Chancellor’s Fellow.

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A lyric fable, Life in a Field intersperses Katie Peterson's slow-moving, cinematic, and sensual writing with three folios of photographs by Young Suh. Introspection, wish, dream, and memory mark this tale, which is set in a location resembling twenty-first-century California—with vistas and orchards threatened by drought and fires. This is also a place of enchantment, a fairy-tale landscape where humans and animals live as equals. As the girl and the donkey grow up, they respond to the difficulties of contemporary civilization, asking a question that meets our existential moment: What do you do with the story you didn't wish for? A narrator's voice combines candor with distance, attempting to find a path through our familiar strife, toward a future that feels all but impossible, and into what remains of beauty and pleasure. Life in a Field tries to reverse our accelerating destruction of the natural world, reminding us of "the cold clarity we need to continue on this earth."

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