I've had Ted Kooser's book Local Wonders on my bookshelf for quite a while - maybe a couple of years - but hadn't got round to reading it all the way through. Recently I took it down and found that it is ideal for taking to work to read on my coffee break. (I'm not being antisocial - we have a very small staff - often just the boss and me if his wife is out!).
It's not a poetry book, but a series of prose observations on people, places and events in the Bohemian Alps area of Nebraska where he lives. It is divided into four sections, one for each season, but each section consists of many short pieces, separated only by a new paragraph and a small leaf motif serving as bullet point, without titles or page breaks.
Kooser is not afraid of using metaphor. In fact at times his prose is overloaded with it, and it can be heavy on sentiment too. But it is saved by the originality of his metaphors, his wonderful observation skills, and his generous good-heartedness. He reminds me to delight in my surroundings, wherever they might be, and not to feel that I have to travel to find anything worth seeing.
If you can awaken
inside the familiar
and discover it new
you need never
A couple of his wonderful metaphors:
The sky is like old blue denim just before dawn, with one round hole worn through, exposing the cold bony knee of the moon.
A woodpecker taps her automatic pencil on the roof of the house, trying to get the lead to drop down through the tube. She is a certified public accountant, dressed appropriately in black and white, and her task is to keep track of a franchise of ants.
I found myself wondering what Kooser would have noted had he been in my neighbourhood on Thursday. Would it be the scattering of tiny fallen blossoms on the pavement, from a native tree whose name I don't know, looking like small black stars? Or perhaps the three ducks who flew past me like fighter pilots, straight down the road towards the river? I'm sure he would have been amused, as I was, by the nest building antics of the small bird out of sight in the guttering - maybe a sparrow, or a starling. Whatever it was, it was wrestling a cabbage tree leaf - a long, narrow fibrous leaf, at least half a dozen times the length of its small body. As it pivoted on the guttering, the leaf swung back and forth, until eventually it lost its grip, and the leaf joined several others on the roof jutting out below.
And no doubt Kooser would have observed several other things that I missed. With practice, I might see them myself.
But I haven't lost the desire to travel.