The poet Ted Kooser (past poet laureate for USA) just speaks to me. I have all of his poetry books, most are dog-eared from re-reading. Perhaps it’s his Midwestern Nebraska voice that finds myriad ways to distill the complexity of our lives to simple and beautiful words—perhaps that is why he reaches into my heart and head with his poetry. In this poem, Splitting an Order, can you not visualize the scene—an elderly couple sitting at a table in a diner, probably the same table and the same diner they have visited for decades?? I would use this poem with middle/high school kids to invite them to consider how keen the observation in this poem, how the simple details create powerful emotion. It was a sandwich order split among two people!—how beautiful the images created by the details. Enlarging small moments. Kooser is a wonderful poet-author study for middle and high school. His poems reach deep into our own storehouses of memories. Writing from what we know best. This poem is in the collection Valentines, a poetry text I have mentioned in previous posts on this blog.
Splitting an Order
I like to watch an old man cutting a sandwich in half,
maybe an ordinary cold roast beef on whole wheat bread,
no pickles or onion, keeping his shaky hands steady
by placing his forearms firm on the edge of the table
and using both hands, the left to hold the sandwich in place,
and the right to cut it surely, corner to corner,
observing his progress through glasses that moments before
he wiped with his napkin, and then to see him lift half
onto the extra plate that he had asked the server to bring,
and then to wait, offering the plate to his wife
while she slowly unrolls her napkin and places her spoon,
her knife and her fork in their proper places,
then smoothes the starched white napkin over her knees
and meets his eyes and holds out both old hands to him.
by Ted Kooser, from Valentines. © University of Nebraska Press, 2008.