“Under a Forty-Watt Bulb” by Ted Kooser

Ted Kooser


These days he goes down the steep cellar stairs 
sideways, facing the wall, both hands clamped on 
the rail as he lowers a foot to the next step, 

not looking down but feeling the way with the toe 
of his slipper, placing the foot firmly, then waiting
a moment before lowering the other foot, fitting  

it next to the first, his thin leather slippers 
parked side by side as they’d be in a closet. Then
loosening one hand, sliding it down, getting

a good grip, the other hand following, gripping,
one foot swinging out, swinging down, its toe 
tapping the riser to feel it, then setting it down, 

the other foot following, step down to step without 
looking, his eyes to the wall as he counts his way 
lower, ten steps to the bottom, both feet on each step

down and down, as if to the bottom of time 
where everything’s settled, then back, step by step, 
but now climbing forward, a little more labored, 

pushing a quart jar of peaches from each step
to the step just above, one step at a time, a man
following peaches, only one hand on the rail.

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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