It’s often the small things, the details that help a poet talk about the bigger things in life. Here’s a poem that does just that by American poet Ted Kooser, a master of the small details. It’s from his collection Delights & Shadows from Copper Canyon Press; his latest book, published by the University of Nebraska Press, is Valentines, a collection of twenty-two years’ worth of Valentine’s Day poems.
The China Painters
They have set aside their black tin boxes,
scratched and dented,
spattered with drops of pink and blue;
and their dried-up, rolled-up tubes
of alizarin crimson, chrome green,
zinc white, and ultramarine;
their vials half full of gold powder;
stubs of wax pencils;
frayed brushes with tooth-bitten shafts;
and have gone in fashion and with grace
into the clouds of loose, lush roses,
narcissus, pansies, columbine,
on teapots, chocolate pots,
saucers and cups, the good Haviland dishes
spread like a garden
on the white lace Sunday cloth,
as if their souls were bees
and the world had been nothing but flowers.
Used with kind permission of Ted Kooser and Copper Canyon Press.