Always Something New (from the “Bizzaro Ted Kooser” series)

They’ve been married nearly
50 years. They’ve had their
sorrow and their joys – which is
a way of saying that they’ve had
their sons and daughters. They
finally own the house outright – although
most of the new furniture is still on
the credit card whose balance never
seems to go down. But when he wakes up
each morning it’s like he’s always
looking at her for the first time. Even
after all these years, there’s always
something new. Looking down at her now,
as he brushes away the dark hair falling
across her forehead, he catches a
brief glimpse of something. He squints
at it then reaches back to the nightstand
for his spectacles. Once on, once he
can see clearly, there is clearly no doubt
that in the middle of her forehead,
is a tiny eye. Gently with his fingers,
he opens its lid to reveal an eye filled
with a thick, yellowish-brown pus. The
eye blinks at him. “It’s okay,” he says.
He walks to the bathroom, opens the medicine
cabinet and reaches for the eye drops
Doc Smith had given him a few years ago
when he was having eye problems due
the spell of that gypsy who was holed up
in Dick Porter’s hayloft. He’s sits back on the bed
and forces the eyelid open as puts some drops in.
“Now blink,” he says quietly, so as not to
wake up his wife. He continues to parcel out
the drops and wipe away the pus with a Kleenex
He continues until the small thing is clear and
as it clears he notices that it is a brown eye -
not the light blue of her light blue eyes.
“That’ll do for now, I guess,” he says.
The eye blinks twice as if to say “Thank
you.” He replaces locks of hair over the eye,
walks to the bathroom and puts the eye drops
back. He brushes his teeth and starts to
head out, but realizes there’s some
unfinished business to take care of.
He takes a tremendously large shit – one
for the ages – then goes out into the tool shed
to sharpen his cutting tools. Halfway there,
he thinks of something his father used to say,
“They’re not making the days any longer…”
and shakes his head, because he knows, deep
down, that it’s only a matter of time until they do.

A Soft Spot of His Family (from the “Bizarro Ted Kooser” series)

His hands are rough from
working the farm, scraping
what he can out of the un-
forgiving soil. His face -
tanned dark from working
in the fields every day from
sunup to sunset, wrinkles
spreading across it like all
so many rivers of worn leather
leading up to the deep
crows feet around his eyes.
He has callouses on his feet,
his corns are terrible and he’s
due for bunion surgery at the
country hospital. With his
gruff countenance, which some
would even call “abrasive”, he’s
not the warm and fuzzy type, he
wouldn’t win any Miss Congeniality
contests. But he has a soft spot
for his wife and children. Every night,
after the table’s been cleared, the
dishes washed, dried and put away,
he shows it to them, sitting in the
old recliner of their modest living room,
once the children 2 daughters and
a son, along with his wife, have lined up
in order of height. He lifts up his shirt
to reveal a 3″x4″ region of hairless and
incredibly smooth skin just below the
end of the rib cage on his right side.
And one by one, they rub his soft spot
with a special handmade lotion they’ve
carefully made according to the recipe
on the sacred scrolls and apply it
according to the instructions given to them
by the aliens shortly before they left
in their spacecraft. They don’t talk
about this to others. This is Nebraska,
and, here in Nebraska, some things are
just family matters you don’t blab about.

[you can always see the mountain]

you can always see
the mountain when it’s cloudy
close your eyes and see

we have etched it there
inside both of your eyelids
we thought you’d like it


two-stanza bizarro haiku

The Trip to the Tree at Christmas

You set out with him in a blizzard,
you in your Mighty Mac, him in his parka,
workboots, wool hat, and holding in the firm
grip of his thick black gloves an axe.

Though only ten minutes have passed
since you left the house, it seems like
hours the wind’s been driving the snow
into your face like so many tiny needles.

You can’t see a thing other than
a veil of white and the stinging flakes
and his bulky shape up ahead as
your father yells, “Keep up, boy”.

And you keep up because this is how
a man becomes a man in Nebraska –
dutifully following his father through
a white-out with both of you on a mission.

And you stumble and you try to
do your best to keep up, because
out here on the Great Plains,
good boys don’t disappoint their fathers.

At last you can see the tree ahead,
the one where you are headed,
the one you talked about before
you left the farmhouse.

You get there and your father pauses
only for a second as he assesses
the situation, forms a strategy
where the blow of the axe will fall.

He swings the axe down hard
into the tree – a powerful but precise
blow that cuts through the thick rope
that has held your brother there overnight.

His body slumps to the ground and you worry that
your father was wrong – that he might be dead.
You see that his lips are not blue, but are
still the bright cherry red of the lipstick.

After failing to rouse him awake and
making sure he’s still breathing,
your father says to you, “Looks like we’ll
have to drag him back to the house.”

He flips your brother on his back,
gathers the rope from around the tree
then loops it under each arm of your brother
“Pull hard and keep up,” he says, handing you one end of rope.

And you pull hard and you try to
do your best to keep up, because
out here on the Great Plains,
good boys don’t disappoint their fathers.


Another piece from the genre I’m calling “Bizarro Ted Kooser”

Each Nebraska Winter

A good mother sews
mittens on her children’s
faces, not out of madness,
but mostly love mixed
with a small degree of
guilt, for she has birthed
six children all missing their
tongues, instead having two
tiny hands at the end of tiny
arms jutting out of their
perpetually opened mouths.

And each Nebraska winter,
Jimmy, the oldest, says to
his mother in their special
language of hand claps and
clicks,”Mom, what if this
year you just used some
Velcro? They sell these
Velcro strips now, and it
would probably be easier
for everyone if – “

And each Nebraska winter,
she pauses her needlework,
stares at him with her steel
gray eyes, and then gives him
a stiff dose of the plain-spoken
logic possessed by all women
raised their entire lives on the
Great Plains, “You’ve never
lost your mittens yet, have you?”
she asks as she dabs a bloody
dishrag to his bloody face.

“No, I didn’t think so.”


The above poem belongs to a subgenre of Bizarro I’m trying to pioneer called “Bizarro Ted Kooser”

there is this one type of fear

There is this one type
of fear

where the bullet is pressed
against the side of the head

in the absence of a gun
by her hands

which seems to peak
when she screams

“BANG!”
right in your ear.

There is another type
of fear

where the bullet is held
against the side of the head

by the flat side of
a long kitchen knife

which seems to peak
when the voice of the hand holding the knife says,

“Looks like I’m going to have to dig
the bullethole into your head by hand.”

There is a third type
of fear

where the bullet is held in place
against the side of the head

by masking tape
wrapped around your head

which does not peak, but is steady horror
as you roll and roll, wondering how it got there

but afraid to rip it off because somehow you know
it’s there to keep something from slipping out.

Of the three, I’ve found this third one
to be the most common.

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