Always Something New (from the “Bizzaro Ted Kooser” series)

They’ve been married nearly
50 years. They’ve had their
sorrow and their joys – which is
a way of saying that they’ve had
their sons and daughters. They
finally own the house outright – although
most of the new furniture is still on
the credit card whose balance never
seems to go down. But when he wakes up
each morning it’s like he’s always
looking at her for the first time. Even
after all these years, there’s always
something new. Looking down at her now,
as he brushes away the dark hair falling
across her forehead, he catches a
brief glimpse of something. He squints
at it then reaches back to the nightstand
for his spectacles. Once on, once he
can see clearly, there is clearly no doubt
that in the middle of her forehead,
is a tiny eye. Gently with his fingers,
he opens its lid to reveal an eye filled
with a thick, yellowish-brown pus. The
eye blinks at him. “It’s okay,” he says.
He walks to the bathroom, opens the medicine
cabinet and reaches for the eye drops
Doc Smith had given him a few years ago
when he was having eye problems due
the spell of that gypsy who was holed up
in Dick Porter’s hayloft. He’s sits back on the bed
and forces the eyelid open as puts some drops in.
“Now blink,” he says quietly, so as not to
wake up his wife. He continues to parcel out
the drops and wipe away the pus with a Kleenex
He continues until the small thing is clear and
as it clears he notices that it is a brown eye –
not the light blue of her light blue eyes.
“That’ll do for now, I guess,” he says.
The eye blinks twice as if to say “Thank
you.” He replaces locks of hair over the eye,
walks to the bathroom and puts the eye drops
back. He brushes his teeth and starts to
head out, but realizes there’s some
unfinished business to take care of.
He takes a tremendously large shit – one
for the ages – then goes out into the tool shed
to sharpen his cutting tools. Halfway there,
he thinks of something his father used to say,
“They’re not making the days any longer…”
and shakes his head, because he knows, deep
down, that it’s only a matter of time until they do.

Each Autumn in Nebraska

Always the Sunday morning before Halloween,
when the leaves left on the trees are still the Fall rainbow
of reds, oranges, and yellows, I get the supplies ready
in the back of our powder-blue Ford pickup as
you make our lunch in our small kitchen, and,
after we put on our matching blue windbreakers,
we head to the park.

And each autumn in Nebraska, in a field near a line of trees,
feeling a crisp briskness in the air telling us winter will be here soon,
I fill your mouth with fallen leaves and you lovingly
chew them into mouthfuls of mulch that you
spit into the bag containing other mouthfuls,
you occasionally taking a sip of lemonade
poured from a pitcher my mother gave us
on our 10th wedding anniversary
to keep your mouth moist.

We do this all morning, and then we break for lunch.
I unwrap from tinfoil the simple cheese sandwiches
you’ve made, and smile seeing that you’ve cut off all the crusts
just the way I like them then reach into the lunch bag
and pull out your lunch – the sandwich crusts in a clear baggie,
which you devour after gargling with lemonade.

The afternoon moves on uneventfully.

As the sun begins to set, we gather our things and
slowly head back to our powder-blue Ford each dragging
two bags of mulch behind us that in our weariness
that comes from a full days work out here on the Great Plains
feel like bags of heavy armor if armor could rustle.
I jump into the bed and you hand me a bag and I
dump it all out in the bed and do the same with
the next three bags then spread it evenly across the bed.

We get into the cab, pause, and look at each other
and kiss the way decent god-fearing, Christian folks who’ve
been raised in the lost rural hamlets of Nebraska kiss –
lip-to-lip, mouths closed, definitely no tongue.
I start the truck and you turn around to look
through the window of the cab. I drive very slowly
until the hit the main highway then stop the truck
and ask you “Ready?”

You nod and I floor the gas pedal and
you watch the mulch fly up and out of the bed
all the while screaming with joy, “Brown smoke!
Brown smoke! Brown smoke go all over!…”
and the like until the bed is empty and
you turn around in the cab and begin to cry
and don’t stop until we’re back at our homestead.

We have a simple supper of leftover meatloaf,
mashed potatoes and peas, before you turn in
early for bed bringing a stack of magazines.

I shut all the lights and sit down in the living room
in my recliner sipping whiskey until I open my eyes
and the sound of the birds tells me it’s another day.