Two Poems by Ted Kooser

In Darkness

From a porch swing, in under the dark of a roof,
and to keep the chains quiet, not swinging, I watched
somebody walk past with a flashlight, a woman
or man—there was no way of telling—a vague shape,

only part of the night, the beam’s end out in front
on an extendable leash, the small circle of light
scampering side to side, running forward to sniff
what was ahead, sometimes waiting a moment

for the person to catch up, then trotting in front,
as if proud of itself. It was a white Pomeranian
of light, or maybe a white miniature poodle,
I felt certain, and it was clearly excited to be out

for a walk after dark on a cool, starless and moonless
night in late summer. On up the street it tugged,
straining a little as if dragging the darkness behind,
pulling it over the now-fading scuffing of footfalls.

*

The Boat of the Past

Barefoot and wearing a robe and pajamas
he follows a dewy, worn path to a dock,
walks out to the end, and slowly climbs

down into the leaky Boat of the Past, tied
and waiting. And though it’s already full
of his memories it accepts him, settling

a little, slightly rocking, parts of the past
washing around him. He stored the oars
long ago, there being nothing left out there

to row toward but dizzying light, nothing
he wanted to net and bring back. These days
he just snatches up this or that memory,

lifts it into the light, wipes it dry on his robe.
One of these days someone will show up
while he’s dreaming, unknot the rope,

put a foot on the stern and shove, pushing
him onto the future, but for now he’ll just sit
in the sun, its hands warm on his shoulders.

*

Ted Kooser is, at 82, fully retired from teaching and public appearances but writing every day at his home in rural Nebraska. His most recent collection of poems is a fine letterpress limited printing of A SUITE OF MOONS, from Gibraltar Editions in Omaha. He is a former U. S. Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Two Poems by Ted Kooser

Three Leaves

The first from a cottonwood, a rag
of a leaf, yellow with green stains,
the kind you might pick up by one
corner and cautiously sniff, a strange
oily paraffin odor. Next, from an elm,
in that dusty, green bleached down
to brown paint of a ’48 Plymouth,
rust holes all over it, the wind
pushing it rattling over a sidewalk,
then tipping it into the gutter.
Then one from an oak of some kind,
with the scuffed leatherette brown
of an old Samsonite suitcase, long
out of fashion, our last leaf today,
part of a matching set, handed down
autumn to autumn.

*

Dust Bath

Had it not been a good path
to scuff to the barn in the evening,
across the low slope of a hillside,
this shallow rut—with today one
brown cow in the lead, seven
following, heavy heads nodding
and blowing—would be grass
like the rest of the pasture, but
just now it leads up to and then
on from a place that stays put,
a shallow around which a kingbird
is flying as it waits for the last
cow to clop past before flitting in
for a vigorous dusting, just a puff
from this distance, like smoke
from a cannon that’s so far away
you can see it, not hear it, then
the bird shooting out and away,
too small and too far for an echo.

*

Ted Kooser is, at 82, fully retired from teaching and public appearances but writing every day at his home in rural Nebraska. His most recent collection of poems is a fine letterpress limited printing of A SUITE OF MOONS, from Gibraltar Editions in Omaha. He is a former U. S. Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.