“Cancer” by Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser


I heard a little rattle, saw the doorknob jiggle,
then go still. How often I had seen this in a film, 
but now I was the woman in the darkened 
parlor drawing back the curtain just an inch  
to see nobody there, the street, all up and down,
a glaring void, no one to call out to, to cry to, 
the menace now an utter emptiness, so bright 
it seemed the sky was white as porcelain. 

A bleached leaf that had fallen on the sidewalk 
wasn’t moving though the light was blowing
hard, a steady gale, it having scoured out 
everything beyond me. Death was gone, at least
for now, it having tried my door to find 
the deadbolt held, the one that I’d been born with. 

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021


Ted Kooser: “I’ll be 82 when these poems are published and both describe me. I had a second bout with cancer a year and a half ago, and ‘Cancer’ comes out of that experience. I’m not dying, or even close to dying, but death comes by and rattles the doorknob more and more often. We have a fine house, a re-build, with very steep cellar stairs due to some architectural reconfiguration. That guy in ‘Under a Forty-Watt Bulb’ is yours truly, lucky to be able to get up and down a flight of stairs without having to stop and breathe. Health good, balance a little iffy.” (web)

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