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By Ted Kooser

In musty light, in the thin brown air

of damp carpet, doll heads and rust,

beneath long rows of sharp footfalls

like nails in a lid, an old man stands

trying on glasses, lifting each pair

from the box like a glittering fish

and holding it up to the light

of a dirty bulb. Near him, a heap

of enameled pans as white as skulls

looms in the catacomb shadows,

and old toilets with dry red throats

cough up bouquets of curtain rods.


You’ve seen him somewhere before.

He’s wearing the green leisure suit

you threw out with the garbage,

and the Christmas tie you hated,

and the ventilated wingtip shoes

you found in your father’s closet

and wore as a joke. And the glasses

which finally fit him, through which

he looks to see you looking back—

two mirrors which flash and glance—

are those through which one day

you too will look down over the years,

when you have grown old and thin

and no longer particular,

and the things you once thought

you were rid of forever

have taken you back in their arms.


Ted Kooser, “In the Basement of the Goodwill Store” from One World at a Time. Copyright © 1985 by Ted Kooser. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, www.upress.pitt.edu. Used by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press.

Source: One World At A Time (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985)

  • Living

Poet Bio

Ted Kooser
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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