By Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate
I’d guess that many of us like old toys. As a boy I had a wind-up tin submarine that dove and surfaced, and a few years ago I saw one just like it in the window of an antique store, making me, of course, an antique. Here’s a poem by Elise Hempel of Illinois, from Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose & Art. Her newest book, Second Rain, came out in the spring of 2016, from Able Muse Press.
Atop his exhausted buggy with its
rusted wheels and now-stuck key,
one boot missing, a faded jersey,
the bill of his cap cracked off, he sits
behind a nicked brown horse that once
flicked its tail, clattered around
planked floor or rug when the buggy was wound
after school by children who’ve since
fallen behind him, white-haired or gone,
as he still waves the flopping spring
of his crop, still stares through dimming
goggles, gathering gray ribbons
of dust in his silent, frozen race
down an ever-unfurling track,
hunched to win, leaving far back
all claps and laughter, his once-smooth face
scarred and pitted, just the white
fleck of a smile now, more a sneer,
his empty fists on the reins of air
still holding tight.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Elise Hempel, “The Jockey,” Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose & Art, (No. 20, Winter 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Elise Hempel and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. They do not accept unsolicited submissions.