Thursday Poem: Abandoned Farmhouse by Ted Kooser

Today, I woke up to find a letter from a friend, in which she included a poem by Ted Kooser called After Years. It is – being a Ted Kooser poem – lovely, of course. No one else I know can pack so much in so little space; all poems in their own way are universes unto themselves, but with Kooser, it is more apparent than most. They are compact, but extraordinarily layered. Having reminded me of him, I went searching for some of his work online and came across Abandoned Farmhouse.

It begins:

He was a big man, says the size of his shoes
on a pile of broken dishes by the house;
a tall man too, says the length of the bed
in an upstairs room; and a good, God-fearing man,
says the Bible with a broken back
on the floor below the window, dusty with sun;
but not a man for farming, say the fields
cluttered with boulders and the leaky barn.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you know you’re reading good poetry when you can hear it sing, however quietly. However strangely. Read it aloud. If ever you need a mantra to stick to in understanding poetry, that’s the one: read it aloud.

This poem, more than the musicality of the lines, the occasional near-rhyme, is beautiful for the story it tells. Kooser lets the picture speak for itself, quite literally, and the result is a deft, exquisite exploration of place. Of the marks we leave on the land, in the structures we inhabit, and what those marks say about us.

It ends with a solid, sombre thump, a sad silence. This is one of those poems that carves a small niche inside you, that takes up residence within and provokes thought for weeks, months, years to come. Needless to say, I think you should read it.

It’s beautiful.

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