American Life in Poetry: Column 823


Time to clean out a closet and make room for whatever 2021 will bring us! I hope every one of you has a new year that’s much better and happier than the one we’re all shoving behind. This is the last column I’ll have a part in, and I’ve written a little goodbye poem for you. Happy New Year!

A Donation of Shoes

They’re on their way to Goodwill
in Destiny’s old cardboard carton,
the flaps folded inside, lending its
scuffed shoulders a look of authority,
the box knowing the route, the shoes
badly lost and confused, their toes
starting in every direction at once,
clambering over each other, laces
entangled—wingtip, slip-on, work-
boot and sneaker—every pair
trying to get one last, lingering look
at the closet before settling down
into their smell. What’s the saddest
about this is seeing those insoles

floating up naked, pale flounders
beat flat and then dried, no longer
to swim through the ocean of days,
led on by plump dolphins of feet.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Ted Kooser, "A Donation of Shoes." Poem reprinted by permission of Ted Kooser. Introduction copyright © 2021 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.