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.

A woman lived with him, says the bedroom wall
papered with lilacs and the kitchen shelves
covered with oilcloth, and they had a child,
says the sandbox made from a tractor tire.
Money was scarce, say the jars of plum preserves
and canned tomatoes sealed in the cellar hole.
And the winters cold, say the rags in the window frames.
It was lonely here, says the narrow country road.

Something went wrong, says the empty house
in the weed-choked yard. Stones in the fields
say he was not a farmer; the still-sealed jars
in the cellar say she left in a nervous haste.
And the child? Its toys are strewn in the yard
like branches after a storm—a rubber cow,
a rusty tractor with a broken plow,
a doll in overalls. Something went wrong, they say.

  • Ted Kooser, "Abandoned Farmhouse" from Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1980 by Ted Kooser.  Reprinted by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

  • Source: Sure Signs: New and Selected Poems (Zoland Books, 1980)

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"Participating in Poetry Out Loud has taught me a lot of things, but I think the one thing I didn't expect to learn is how alive a poem can become when read out loud. I also learned that even words written as much as a hundred years ago can resonate with me and be relevant to my life."
Gypsy Prince
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