The 2River View 25.4 (Summer 2021)

Ted Kooser

Ink Black

It was a very bright day, and for miles,
August had burned off all the color.
Here and there I could see a farmstead,
lifted just slightly above the surface,
like the head of a nail working up out  
of a shingle. Back from the road sat a gray,
plank-sided shed with a sheet-metal roof
held in place by the smoldering sun. 

The fourth wall was open to the south,
and if ever there was an “ink black” this
was it: anything taken inside had sunk
from sight as in a pail of crankcase oil.
All the black in the county was there,
dragged up, rolled in, shoved to the back,
then more heaped up in front, the last bits
pitched on the top to settle in layers dense
as coal. If you needed a bucket of black
or a length of darkness, this was the place
to find it, free. Every shadow for miles
was making a bee-line right for that hole.

But then I saw a little faint light from
a crack between two of the boards
and all the black I’d seen, and thought
I’d felt, that I’d even imagined I could
hear—a creaking and clatter, the squeal
of old machinery, a century or more
of utter blackness I could almost taste,
like oily metal shavings—all of that
packed to the rafters, bowing the walls,
was, as my eyes adjusted, very slowly
leaking away, that shed too flimsy
to hold it all, and I could then make out
a thin gray absence waiting there,
which had an altogether different story.

Ted Kooser is a poet, essayist, and Presidential Professor of English at The University of Nebraska—Lincoln. He served as the United States Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006, and his book Delights & Shadows won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. website

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