Excerpt: Cotton Candy

Ted Kooser, U.S. poet laureate (2004–6) and winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, is an emeritus presidential professor of English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He is the author of dozens of books, including Kindest Regards: New and Selected PoemsThe Wheeling Year: A Poet’s Field Book (Nebraska, 2014), and Delights & Shadows. His newest book, Cotton Candy: Poems Dipped Out of the Air (Nebraska, 2022), was published earlier this year.

December 7th is National Cotton Candy Day! This sugary treat is popular at carnivals and recalls childhood days filled with magic and excitement. To celebrate National Cotton Candy Day, enjoy a sweet excerpt of two poems from Ted Kooser’s Cotton Candy. His objective is to catch whatever comes to him, to snatch it out of the air in words, rhythms, and cadences, the way a cotton candy vendor dips an airy puff out of a cloud of spun sugar and hands it to his customer. Poems written in fun and now shared with the reader, Kooser’s playful and magical confections charm and delight.


Melon

By the time we discovered it under the vines

it was too ripe to pick, its down side soft

and leaking bees, so we left it, a pale yellow

partly deflated, baggy old birthday balloon,

though we reeled in the coarse nets of vine

for the compost heap. All winter that melon

bobbed like a float in the slow tides of snow,

losing its color, and by spring it was hollow,

translucent, a shell from which something

had pecked its way out and was gone

like the past, leaving a trickle of seeds.


One Cloud

In a room with a high, vaulted ceiling,

glass all the way up into the gable,

I watched a cloud pass by four windows


of identical size, just a puff of cloud

no bigger than a hand that might dabble

the smooth blue surface of a pond


while someone else rowed, the only cloud

on an otherwise clear blue autumn morning,

drifting into, then out of the first frame,


and after a brief pause while out of sight

behind a few inches of wall, drifting over,

or onto the pane of the second window,


where I found myself moving my head

to slow it, to hold it a few moments longer

before it pulled free, disappearing before


floating out onto the third, then the fourth,

where each time I slowed it a little,

and then, as if it had never been, that cloud,


which had for a few seconds floated over

just one of my mornings, gently rippling

the glass of my windows, was gone.

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