Honestly, of what possible value is this, this little poem* by Ted Kooser?
A Monday in May
It rained all weekend,
but today the peaked roofs
are as dusty and warm
as the backs of old donkeys
tied in the sun.
So much alike are our houses,
our lives. Under every eave—
leaf, cobweb, and feather;
and for each front yard
one sentimental maple,
who after a shower has passed,
weeps into her shadow
Okay, so his weekend was gray and drippy. Okay but, he says with an image drawn from somewhere in old Mexico, the sun is out this Monday morning and the air is so dry that the peaked roofs around town appear to him as the backs of old donkeys, something Kooser, a Nebraskan, probably doesn't see every day. Nor do I.
It's an odd mix of sadness and promise, isn't it? Fair weather now after a weekend of woe. And what do we make of those dusty donkey butts? I don't know where he gets them, but they work because a reader like me can see what he's talking about, even if I've never actually observed a gathering of dusty old tethered donkeys. Strange image, but vivid.
With his next line says it's been our dreary weekend too, and that warm roof belongs to each of us: "So much alike are our houses,/our lives" is unremitting in its inclusiveness. He's not talking about himself because we're all in this together. Whether or not we're comfortable with him saying so, under every eave, he says, you'll find the same cobweb-y refuse, and isn't that something how alike we are? Weather and spiders and molting birds spend themselves in our lives--all of them, his and yours and mine--and leave their trash behind.
And, too, there's "one sentimental maple" in our front yards, a sad and vulnerable hardwood that won't stop dripping tears long after the rain has moved on.
End of poem. That's it.
I'm no longer an English teacher, so I don't much care if I'm not right; but to me, it's a poem about making sense. I know that's probably a stretch. What's here is a series of images just strange enough to be sweet--dusty backs of old donkeys (see 'em?), flotsam trash that's got to be cleaned up twice a year, and a solitary, front yard maple who's weeping, not to mention a whole darn weekend of rain. All tolled, life isn't pretty. It's full of little bothersome things with varying degrees of yuckiness. It's life.
But then, the sun is shining and that mess beneath the eaves is not uniquely ours--everybody's got it. And that maple in the front yard, the one weeping "into her shadow," isn't broken. It's still there, remembering that shower, a shower, in Nebraska, that's almost always welcome. That maple seems, at first glance, almost funereal; but there's something right to it, something not uncommon, something thoughtful and human in those tears.
There's some considerable darkness in the images, but altogether you can't help feeling a little joy at the fact that Ted Kooser pieced all this stuff together and made sense of it, an act which sometimes in the middle of our madness, feels downright heroic. Somehow, this poem feels like our lives because we're in it too. It helps us make sense of things. (And yes, there's a dirty little pun there.)
It's a poem about gathering this-and-that-and-the-other-thing on a warm, dry day, and bringing just a little order out of so much chaos.
Who cares? Is Ted Kooser making any money today from a sunny Monday morning?
I doubt it. But I'm enough of a believer to say that with his rainy weekend and dusty donkeys, he made my life just a little bit richer. And that's reason enough for morning thanks.
*from Writers Almanac, 9/11/2013.