American Life in Poetry: Column 533

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I once knew an artist who seemed to live on those little envelopes of free sugar that one can find on tables in restaurants. And he took the little “watercolor pans” of jelly, too, stuffing his pockets. Here’s a poem by Ned Balbo, who lives in Baltimore, about another sugar snatcher.

The Sugar Thief

If it was free, you taught, I ought to grab it
as you did: McDonald’s napkins, pens,
and from the school where you were once employed
as one of two night shift custodians,
the metal imitation wood wastebasket
still under my desk. But it was sugar
that you took most often as, annoyed
on leaving Dunkin’ Donuts, pancake house,
and countless diners, I felt implicated
in your pleasure, crime, and poverty.
I have them still, your Ziploc bags of plunder,
yet I find today, among the loose
change in my pockets, packets crushed or faded—
more proof of your lasting legacy.



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 ©2010 by Ned Balbo, “The Sugar Thief,” from The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems, (Story Line Press, 2010). Poem reprinted by permission of Ned Balbo 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.