American Life in Poetry: Column 513

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Kwame Dawes is the editor of Prairie Schooner and one of my colleagues at the University of Nebraska. Had I never had the privilege of getting to know him I still would have loved the following poem, for its clear and matter-of-fact account of a sudden loss.

Coffee Break

It was Christmastime,
the balloons needed blowing,
and so in the evening
we sat together to blow
balloons and tell jokes,
and the cool air off the hills
made me think of coffee,
so I said, “Coffee would be nice,”
and he said, “Yes, coffee
would be nice,” and smiled
as his thin fingers pulled
the balloons from the plastic bags;
so I went for coffee,
and it takes a few minutes
to make the coffee
and I did not know
if he wanted cow’s milk
or condensed milk,
and when I came out
to ask him, he was gone,
just like that, in the time
it took me to think,
cow’s milk or condensed;
the balloons sat lightly
on his still lap.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Kwame Dawes, “Coffee Break,” from Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems, (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of Kwame Dawes and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2018 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.