Blog Post #1 - March 25, 2012

"At the Cancer Clinic"

She is being helped toward the open door
that leads to the examining rooms
by two young women I take to be her sisters.
Each bends to the weight of an arm
and steps with the straight, tough bearing
of courage. At what must seem to be
a great distance, a nurse holds the door,
smiling and calling encouragement.
How patient she is in the crisp white sails
of her clothes. The sick woman
peers from under her funny knit cap
to watch each foot swing scuffing forward
and take its turn under her weight.
There is no restlessness or impatience
or anger anywhere in sight. Grace
fills the clean mold of this moment
and all the shuffling magazines grow still.

Many of Ted Kooser’s poems reflect a dismal and often depressing tone and attitude on the top, and this one can only be included in that stereotype. The title speaks for itself…the reader is instantly intrigued to read more as many of us are drawn to death and sadness in writings and movies. However, beyond the sad and morbid topic, is a hint of hope and grace that many of us look for in these types of situations. Through the thick and thin, this poem presents strength, beauty, and determination amongst a not so pleasant situation.

From the beginning of the poem, it is easy to tell that this patient’s battle with cancer is ongoing because of the patient’s need of help toward the door and her “funny knit cap.” The reader can assume that the cancer patient has been through this routine before. In addition, a question remains…how old is this woman? She has “two young women” helping her, who are assumed to be her sisters; she evidently has a very supportive family, but it’s the patient’s own strength that has kept her somewhat on her feet. Though they show support on either side of her arm, it is really the woman’s own strength and determination that is getting her to the door. The rest of the background information behind this poem is left to the reader’s interpretation.

Additionally, this poem is told from the perspective of another patient in the waiting room; therefore, he or she understands exactly what this woman is going through. He or she respects the “courage” found on the face of the woman and her sisters; together, they are fighting this disease that disrupts so many lives. Though struggling with the inevitable outcome of this disease, the speaker stresses the “patience” in everyone involved; in a time of desperate needs, the patient, her sisters, and the nurse stay calm and patient and move through life with acceptance and strength.

Kooser uses beautiful descriptions to demonstrate how spectacular this woman is despite her circumstances. What seems like a potentially sad and depressing poem, actually turns out to be 17 lines of important and impressive qualities that all of us should aspire to have.

There is no rhyme scheme or deep underlying meaning to this poem that one has to search for, which is why I picked Ted Kooser as my poet. Though he doesn’t put everything out onto the table, his point is often made by the end of the poem.


What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

Once again, Ted Kooser tells a story through his poetry. He addresses age and the change of life and its course in comparison to a tattoo. The tattoo symbolizes something that is always there and permanent, but it changes and shifts meaning with your body as you move through life, as it does with the man in this poem. The tattoo represents something that stays with you throughout all the years and will forever symbolize the old man’s youth wherever life takes him.

The knife in the heart tattoo filled the shoulder of a young boy when he wasn’t thinking about what he was doing and why – it “was meant to be a statement.” However, through time and age, this tattoo lost meaning and just become a faint reminder of another life. Kooser associates the tattoo with vanity, as that is the circumstance that many tattoos are chosen during. Arrogance was often a quality that struck a lot of fights and punches; stories that this man will always remember. The tattoo symbolized strength, but as this man aged, the strength left him. By the end of the poem, Kooser gives us a glimpse into the later life of this man; he still shows off his tattoo. However, now it is not to prove strength or stability, but to show off part of his past and who he was. Now, the tattoo is just a story…his strength turned into the sensitive heart that so many get with age.

Kooser keeps a very matter of fact tone throughout the whole poem, while still reflecting of youth, change, and life. Though this man was thought of as strong and ornery in his youth, the speaker again links back to that quality through the fact that the man has his sleeves rolled up despite the cold weather, and he is still looking at tools to indicate his strength.

Again, Kooser does not use a specific rhyming scheme but instead tells a story through very descriptive adjectives. Together, the entire poem is only two sentences long, but through those two sentences, a lot is told and discovered. The short length of his poems allows the readers a little room for imagination, but also enough detail to provide a solid foundation. this video is of a boy who reads both of the Ted Kooser poems I've done so far!!

Blog Post #2 - April 12, 2012

1 Today you would be ninety-seven
2 if you had lived, and we would all be
3 miserable, you and your children,
4 driving from clinic to clinic,
5 an ancient fearful hypochondriac
6 and his fretful son and daughter,
7 asking directions, trying to read
8 the complicated, fading map of cures.
9 But with your dignity intact
10 you have been gone for twenty years,
11 and I am glad for all of us, although
12 I miss you every day—the heartbeat
13 under your necktie, the hand cupped
14 on the back of my neck, Old Spice
15 in the air, your voice delighted with stories.
16 On this day each year you loved to relate
17 that the moment of your birth
18 your mother glanced out the window
19 and saw lilacs in bloom. Well, today
20 lilacs are blooming in side yards
21 all over Iowa, still welcoming you.

Ted Kooser often writes is poetry based of his own life experiences, which helps make it significantly more relatable to the readers. This poem can just be added into that group because it is apparent that Kooser could be referencing his own father based of the significant detail and emotion that went into this poem.
Kooser starts off the poem by first recognizing what the age of this father would be at this time; 97 years old and tone of longing in "if you had lived" already references the sadness the speaker experienced by this death. However, the tone instantly changes when the speaker says that the children would have been "miserable." Once again, Kooser writes a poem about clinics, diseases, and deaths; however this time, the patient is a "hypochondriac"...a long word being one who always thinks he or she is hurt or sick. Kooser uses a rhetorical device that creates dramatic imagery in the "fading map of cures"; evidently, this was a prolonged problem that no one could find answers for. The next section of lines (Lines 9-11) discuss the death of this father and how he has been gone for 20 years, and despite the sadness and yearning for answers, the speaker still thinks it was for the best.
Finally, in Line 12 the reader is finally somewhat aware of whom the speaker might actually be...his wife. Lines 12-15 are filled with detailed descriptions of this father that only someone very intimate with him would have knowledge of. The tone is filled with a longing need and desire to see this loved one again despite all of the hardships there seemed to be in the last years of his life.
Lastly, Kooser fills the end of his poem with a sweet reference and an ending full of hope. Lines 16-21 recount a personal anecdote of a story that the father used to tell and then connects it to something happening at the present day. This death is apparently still fresh in the speaker's mind and the lilacs will forever remind the father's loved ones of him.

Lilac_#9.jpgPicture of Lilacs in Iowa

1 She was all in black but for a yellow pony tail
2 that trailed from her cap, and bright blue gloves
3 that she held out wide, the feathery fingers spread,
4 as surely she stepped, click-clack, onto the frozen
5 top of the world. And there, with a clatter of blades,
6 she began to braid a loose path that broadened
7 into a meadow of curls. Across the ice she swooped
8 and then turned back and, halfway, bent her legs
9 and leapt into the air the way a crane leaps, blue gloves
10 lifting her lightly, and turned a snappy half-turn
11 there in the wind before coming down, arms wide,
12 skating backward right out of that moment, smiling back
13 at the woman she'd been just an instant before.

This poem is very different from the rest of Ted Kooser's style in that its simply depicts the image that the speaker and/or Ted Kooser found beautiful and intriguing. The image of a skate is always thought of as some graceful and soothing, and Kooser's imagery and use of diction only enhances that for the reader. Lines 1 and 2 are simply filled with the descriptions of color. Immediately, the reader has a picture in his or her mind of this specific skater at this specific time. Then, in the next two lines, Kooser moves into an image and description closely related to that of an animal through "feathery" and "click-clack." Without the title of the poem first, the reader would have a difficult time imagining exactly what Kooser is referencing, but the imagination is left up to interpretation, which adds a piece of individuality into the poem.
Then, in Line 5, Kooser writes about a specific time and section of this figure skater's practice and/or routine. He describes her path as a "meadow of curls" and her legs like a "crane"; nature is often described and juxtaposed with beautiful images because they are so intertwined. Nature is often commented on because it is an easy and simple topic that offers so much in regards to detail and beauty.
Then, Kooser throws in a unexpected ending as he often down. After the beautiful and descriptive diction and imagery and whimsical tone, the skater is suddenly skating backwards and smiling "at the woman she'd been just an instant before." Though very complex and can be taken in a number of ways, I read this as the skater growing up and being a true woman and out of her youth while doing this complex flip/turn in the air. It's almost as if this skating scene aged her because of the danger and risk, but also courage.
Like so many of Kooser's poems, they are very simple on the surface and easy to analyze, but a lot of detail is left out in his very short stanzas. The readers are often able to interpret his poems as they wish and decipher his underlying meanings in a way he or she sees fit.