Tattoo by Ted Kooser

I’m working on a review of Ted Kooser’s latest book of poems Splitting an Order for The Christian Century so I’ve been enjoying his poems in these last days. This rooted midwestern man, former insurance executive, has polished his style and sharpened his eye over the years so that nearly every pure and simple line he writes rings clear and true.

Splitting an Order Cover

Here’s a Kooser poem from his 2005 volume Delights and Shadows that won the Pulitzer Prize.

Tattoo

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.

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