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By Ted Kooser

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)

Poet Bio

Born in Iowa and a lifelong midwesterner currently residing in Nebraska, Ted Kooser portrays a rural lifestyle with concision and directness in his poetry. Kooser chose to work in the insurance business and write on the side rather than pursue a career in academia. In 2004 Kooser was named Poet Laureate of the United States.

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