I-70 Review

Writing and Art from the Middle and Beyond

Featured Poet

Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser's most recent collection of poetry is Red Stilts, from Copper Canyon Press.  He's also the author of four childrens' picture books, published by Candlewick Press, the most recent being Mr Posey's New Glasses, 2019.He recently retired from teaching poetry writing at the University of Nebraska and from his founding editorship of American Life in Poetry, a weekly column reaching 4.6 million readers.  He is a former U. S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner who lives in rural Nebraska.

     An Afternoon Before Winter

Under a great silver maple,

crowding a sizeable share of the sky

with its ball of bare branches—

just a leaf or two left here and there

feebly waving—a big circle of lawn

is covered with that pale lampshade

yellow of maples in early November,

and a large man in a barn jacket

and one of those farm-store black caps

with the earflaps tied over the top,

riding a red mower not a lot bigger

than he, shiny as if it were new

this past spring, has, as we're passing,

buzzed into the leaves, throwing

a big plume of yellow confetti

off to the side, making a very green

path, as if freshly painted, his face

flat, expressionless, both hands firm

on the steering wheel, not betraying

his delight, though it's easy to see,

even while just driving past.


By late afternoon, this one brief block

of the crowded parade route has settled back

into an empty street of silent, graying houses

shuffling through time, the cracked pavement

no longer crossed by little children dashing

over and back, but by the lengthening shadows

of trees, and a woman somewhere in her

seventies, trailing behind in a headscarf

patterned with flowers, is walking her grass

pinching up empty Tootsie Pop wrappers

in aqua-green dishwashing gloves.

     In Cemetery Winter

The backhoe's rattle stops, and a silence      

that must have all along been seeping out

of the fresh grave's walls but which, before,

was being scooped out and ladled over

the snow, is now overflowing the hole

and flooding the graveyard with quiet,

just as a man in insulated coveralls

shoves open the cab, making a squeak

you could hear for a mile, turns his back

to the quiet, gets hold of the door frame

as a person might do when hanging

a mirror, then slowly steps backward, out

and down the iron steps into the stillness

of cemetery winter—no stillness like this,

anywhere, ever. Now he reaches back in

for a shovel, then hands it down into

the grave as if a helper were waiting,      

then lowers himself onto the edge, one

heavy bucket of man at a time, to sit

slowly stirring his legs up to the knees

in the shadows, everything everywhere

paused till he pushes himself off and  

drops with a thud on top of a world

even deeper. How he'll ever be able

to pull himself out is anyone's guess,

but for now he's down out of our sight

shoveling, possibly squaring the corners,

smoothing the black walls, with a trace

of snow sifting down through the trees

and beginning to whiten his shoulders.


S. V. 1948-1991

I suppose you and I exchanged letters

for fifteen or more years before meeting

face to face, at your walk-up apartment

in the Castro. You'd been picking up

for my visit and I passed two big boxes

of wine bottles at the foot of the stairs.

A little breathless with anticipation,

a mint tucked in your cheek, you were

dressed up to go out for dinner, blond

hair rolled in curls, silk blouse and slacks,

but with faux-leather bedroom slippers

which you forgot about till we got down

the steps to the street and you saw them,

then very quickly recovered, laughing,

saying that all alcoholics much preferred

to wear slip-ons. And I laughed along,

and we walked a few blocks to dinner,

you merry and a little nervously chatty.

I could see, as a girl, you'd been pretty,

conventionally pretty, but that night

you were beautiful, showing your age,

your lips crinkled, lines by your eyes,

full of plans for your stories, two novels

already behind you. Though I didn't

mention it to you, just lately I'd noticed  

that the worlds in your fiction, once wide,

broad, and crowded with people, seemed

to be shrinking, characters often alone,

confined to a room or two. But what I

remember most vividly, dear lost Sara,

all these many years later, are those telltale,

sad, faux-leather dollar-store slippers.