Excerpt: The Wheeling Year

The following has been excerpted from The Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book by Ted Kooser (Nebraska 2014).

From “December”

The holiday cocktail party begins at the door, where the trill of the doorbell flees from the vestibule and disappears into the crowd, leaving a vacuum of sound into which the small talk surges, foam with greetings, a sea of hellos and how-are-you-doings that you can scarcely keep your head above, gulping for air as you paddle  your way through the handshakes, showing your teeth. But ahead  you can see, there in the kitchen, the raft of drinks, a-tinkle with glasses, and you grasp at its edge and with the others bark like a seal as the slow tide lifts you toward midnight, when with the deepest gratitude you know that somewhere upstairs your coat has just bobbed to the top of the pile on a bed and is drying its wings and waiting to lift you away.

. . .

A pane of glass is a kind of compression of distance, enabling us to get up close to what we want but not permitting us to take it into our hands. We want it all, this life before us: the miniature Christmas village lit by a steady  joy; the doll that in our arms would never grow old; the tiny train that, tooting, speeds away and always returns. Yet our lives are not beyond this breath there on the chilly glass, but of that breath, and in this life the hands in our mittens are never really empty. It is all around us, free, this wonderful life: clear jingle of tire chains, the laughter of ice that breaks under our boots. Each hour’s a gift to those who take it up.

. . .


You have been gone for fifty years, but when washed, your good china looks new, the way it must have looked when you unpacked it. I have it set out on our dining room table ready for Christmas, and the light from the lamp by which I write this to you–a brief note to the past–glints on the gold trim, one glint for each plate and cup and saucer as if the light were touching it where once you touched it, long ago, unwrapping it when it was new.

. . .

I once read of a climber who, while clinging to the face of a cliff thousands of feet above an alpine valley, said he could feel the earth turn under his hands. And I have read that a person with patience could move an aircraft carrier tied at the dock by leaning long enough against its side to get it started, knowing that once it began to move there’d be no bringing it back, and it came to me that the earth behaves like that, moving steadily out into time under the common pressure of billions of hands.

No stopping it now.




Ted Kooser, Presidential Professor of the University of Nebraska, is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry and former U.S. poet laureate. He is the author of twelve books of poetry, including The Blizzard Voices (Nebraska, 2006) and Valentines (Nebraska, 2008) and several books of prose, including The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, Local Wonders: Seasons in the Bohemian Alps, and Lights on a Ground of Darkness: An Evocation of a Place and Time, all available in Bison Books editions.


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