Picking Up After the Dead

By Ted Kooser

This brother and sister have come
hundreds of miles to sort through
the mold and clutter left in the wake
of their maiden aunt, who as the future
closed about her assembled a proof
of the past, heaped in the rooms
she’d played in as a child, her toys,
her picture books, piles of newspapers
nibbled by mice, and over the years
all of the black-and-white issues
of Life, though life for her was there
without having to pay for it, in color:
the bone-yellow ribs of plaster lath
where the ceilings had fallen, some
of the crumbled plaster on her bed,
and in the parlor an upright piano,
dark orange-peel finish clouded
with mildew and half of its keys
stuck down as if a tremendous chord
had been hammered into the silence
to fade only a moment before.

Ted Kooser’s most recent collection of poems is Red Stilts, from Copper Canyon Press. He has a chapbook forthcoming from Pulley Press, a children’s picture book from Candlewick Press, and a collection of poems for young people from University of Nebraska Press, all due out in 2022.

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