My grandfather had a wild child of a sister who, if I’m remembering right, ran off in her teens to marry a carnie. She loved to fall in love, but it didn’t always end well. I only met her once, at lunch, when my family was on a road trip and we stopped at her and her current husband’s home. When he was spoken about among family members, it was always in dark, hushed tones. He was mean, apparently, angry and abusive, with a violent temper, and my great-aunt was afraid of him. At that lunch what I, the child, saw was an old man who sat silently at the head of the table. I watched as he tried to spread mustard on a piece of bread. The knife dropped from his hand and mustard splattered on his plate. I remember the covert look he darted around the table when this happened. No one said anything or looked at him, but I remember briefly meeting his eyes and sensing his humiliation. The image of that old man and the look in his eyes has been with me my whole life, and it came flooding back when I read this poem.
– Ted Kooser
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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