Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In Musty Light

The author of twelve collections of poetry and a Presidential Professor of English at the University of Nebraska, Ted Kooser was the United States Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. His 2004 book of poems, Delights & Shadows won the Pulitzer Prize. Before settling down to write full-time he was a life insurance executive. About his poetry, Mr Kooser has said, “I write for other people with the hope that I can help them to see the wonderful things within their everyday experiences. In short, I want to show people how interesting the ordinary world can be if you pay attention.”

The poem below is from his 1985 book, One World at a Time, one which is often hard to find and more than likely expensive when it turns up. The best bet for getting this one is at a garage sale. Or maybe at the goodwill store. In a preface to his poem, the writer said: “I am a devotee of thrift shops and goodwill stores and garage sales and yard sales and so on, and have spent hours and hours in these places—I just love them, I can’t exactly say why. But the following poem describes the basement of a goodwill store in the way I’ve seen them many times.”


In musty light, in the thin brown air
of damp carpet, doll heads and rust,
beneath long rows of sharp footfalls
like nails in a lid, an old man stands
trying on glasses, lifting each pair
from the box like a glittering fish
and holding it up to the light
of a dirty bulb. Near him, a heap
of enameled pans as white as skulls
looms in the catacomb shadows,
and old toilets with dry red throats
cough up bouquets of curtain rods.

You’ve seen him somewhere before.
He's wearing the green leisure suit
you threw out with the garbage,
and the Christmas tie you hated,
and the ventilated wingtip shoes
you found in your father’s closet
and wore as a joke. And the glasses
which finally fit him, through which
he looks to see you looking back—
two mirrors which flash and glance—
are those through which one day
you too will look down over the years,
when you have grown old and thin
and no longer particular,
and the things you once thought
you were rid of forever
have taken you back in their arms.

1 comment:

  1. Love the poems you post and wonder why there were not accessible poems around me in my youth. And then I laugh and know there were and it was just me who was not accessible.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America