The Clipper Ship

By Ted Kooser

Featured art: Early Morning After a Storm at Sea by Winslow Homer

There was a cheaply framed clipper flying in full sail
over the sofa, and it leaned just a little into the glass
as if to look down on me lying there bored, and it carried
more sail than anything in Iowa. It looked as if some boy
had broken a lot of white cups and saucers and stacked up
the pieces, just so, so they wouldn’t fall off of the sill
of that window that opened onto a faraway sea, a sea
that the ship had only recently ripped open, revealing
the world’s white cotton lining. That overstuffed sofa
was heavy and brown like a barge, and it smelled like
the one suit in my grandfather’s closet, an angry blue
like the sea in the picture, and as I lay there, climbing
the main mast’s springy rigging onto a lofty spar
where I could look down on myself, I could see the sofa
slowly sinking, the carpet all patterned with flotsam
slapping against it, and I wondered, as one might wonder,
if the ship would ever arrive in time to save me, or if I,
hanging high in the rigging, would simply wave it on.


Ted Kooser recently retired from teaching at the University of Nebraska and founding and editing American Life in Poetry, a weekly column free to newspapers and on line. it reaches 4.6 million readers worldwide. Kwame Dawes has taken it over effective January 1st, 2021. Kooser’s most recent book is Red Stilts, from Copper Canyon Press.

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