American Life in Poetry: Column 794

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Here’s a delightful poem you can almost smell. Don’t we all know that old-shoe-plus-shoe-polish odor? I don’t remember oxblood smelling different from plain old black or brown, but Andy Roberts, writing so vividly of his father, makes us feel that it does. He’s from Columbus, Ohio, and his most recent book of poetry is Leaning Toward Greenland, (Night Ballet Press, 2020). We found this poem in Atlanta Review, edited by Karen Head, one of our former colleagues here in Nebraska.

Oxblood

I squeeze into nine pounds of my dead father’s
Brooks Brothers wingtips,
heels worn down from running between women.
Slip on his herringbone suit coat, flash on him
snapping his fingers, popping his Dentyne,
swinging along to “The Great Pretender.”
The suit’s too big, it can go to Goodwill.
But they don’t make shoes like these anymore.
The old tin of oxblood I prize open,
shift to my nose and remember
all he ever needed was Nat King Cole,
a slice of phosphorescent moon
and a blonde in the passenger seat
down Wainwright Road to the quarry.

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 ©2017 by Andy Roberts, "Oxblood," from Atlanta Review, (Vol. XXIV, no. 1, 2017). Poem reprinted by permission of Andy Roberts and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2020 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.