On Meeting Ted Kooser by JM Romig

He sat there behind the table,
with his glasses sitting on his nose,
and his skin sitting on his bones – both loosely,
the way you’d expect someone to sit
after 75 years of good, but hard, living.

“The trick is-” he said
deliberately pausing to shift the weight of the sentence
toward the upcoming words
“you have to wipe away all the things you don’t want to see.”
He said this as he scribbled his name
inside my new copy of his old book
smiling in that gentle old man way.

I scampered away like a schoolboy
feeling like an idiot
having rambled at him
in my best impression of a scholar
– like a kid wearing his dad’s oversized suit.

I talked at him about
how well he captures a moment in poetry
like this former US Poet Laureate
wasn’t aware of his talent
and I was somehow the first
delivering the good news.

As I wander the campus,
having escaped my embarrassment
I think back to a poem he read tonight
about watching an old couple sharing a sandwich.
It was an ode to love,
an image you can see in any sit down restaurant,
literally anywhere in America.
He focused in on this couple,
in this diner
at this moment
apart from time, like a moving still life
forever framed by his words.

He wiped away the screaming kid
and its overwhelmed mother in the booth to the left,
the table of teenagers playing hooky to their right,
and the underpaid twnetysomething waitress
who clearly didn’t want to be there anyway.

He wiped away all of that distraction
and unearthed this beautiful moment
this pure example of true love-
A sandwich cut from corner to corner
by the shaking hands of a man
whose glasses sit upon his face
and skin upon his bones
all the way you expect a man to
with woman he’s loved for forty years
with whom he shares everything.

I think about the moments I have missed
the poems never writ
because I was staring at the waitress,
who clearly didn’t want to be there anyway.

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