Slap of the screen door, flat knock
of my grandmother’s boxy black shoes
on the wooden stoop, the hush and sweep
of her knob-kneed, cotton-aproned stride
out to the edge and then, toed in
with a furious twist and heave,
a bridge that leaps from her hot red hand:
and hangs there shining for fifty years
over the mystified chickens,
over the swaying nettles, the ragweed,
the clay slope down to the creek,
over the redwing blackbirds in the tops
of the willows, a glorious rainbow
with an empty dishpan swinging at one end.
After the funeral, the mourners gather
under the rustling churchyard maples
and talk softly, like clusters of leaves.
White shirt cuffs and collars flash in the shade:
highlights on deep green water.
They came this afternoon to say goodbye,
but now they keep saying hello and hello,
peering into each other’s faces,
slow to let go of each other’s hands.
Ted Kooser, who was born in Ames, Iowa, on April 25, 1939, was Poet Laureate of the United States from 2004 to 2006. In 2005 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. One of America’s most accomplished poets, he is a master of the brief, imagistic lyric which, in his hands, is characterized by precision, accessibility, and a gracious humanity. He lives near Garland, Nebraska, with his wife Kathleen Rutledge, former editor of the Lincoln Journal Star. “Dishwater” and “Mourners” are from his collection Delights and Shadows, published by Copper Canyon Press. They are used here by permission.