Five Poems from Unexpected Shiny Things

By Bruce Dethlefsen, Wisconsin Poet Laureate

Bruce Dethlefsen

Shiny Things

I hide coins for my son to find
drop nickels ‘round the playground swing
seed quarters under sawdust by the slide
place dimes beside the whirlawheel
I act surprised when he discovers
a penny along the woodchip trail
delight in the excitement on his face
his lucky smile finding unexpected shiny things

I seek objects that shine
collect and hold them in my hands
assorted coins that shimmer
crows so bright they start
the fire burning in the sky
my son his brilliant eyes
I turn them in the light
then hide them in my heart

Gone to Ground

it takes a patch of soil
some water and the sun
to raise a plant
you make decisions  
how much this and that
you feed the youngster
clear the weeds
you tend to pay attention

now there he lies     my son
fenced in and covered in the bed
his bandaged head
gauze white and crusted red
his eyes taped shut
a glut of tubes
around his nose and mouth

I make my three decisions
first no more resuscitations
save your breath     stand down
go call the donor folks
it’s almost harvest time
and last at ease
unplug all those machines
please stop that awful hissing sound
what’s grown so loved is gone to ground

I try to find a place
a somewhere on his face
to plant my final kiss



I punch in contacts
and dial up my dead
son’s phone number
as I drive by
his house on admiral
where of course he doesn’t
live there any more
but cell phones are after all
miraculous devices

I park my car
and admire the lawn
green smooth clean cut
mown grass the smell
of grass just mown
the phone rings and rings
the edges of the lawn
are perfectly trimmed
how neat
how awfully admirable


Missing a Spot

I wipe and dry the casserole dish
that fancy one with the see-through glass cover
and as I reach to put it in the cupboard
I discover I remember aunt nancy

now she’s been gone forever
yet there she was
in the kitchen telling me
I missed a spot

they never really ever
go away do they

one touch recalls a thought
a thought a notion
the notion a feeling
the feeling an emotion

so then we cry or not or smile
mostly somewhere in between

and when you go
waterfall everything
will remind me of you



after my reading
a very serious sixth grade girl
asked me if I was wealthy
well I said I have twenty-two
dollars in my wallet right now
my purple truck has two hundred
and thirty-five thousand miles on it
I’m wearing clean and mended clothes
I’ll sleep in a warm bed tonight
I’ve got my health my hands my eyes
my family and friends who love me
and I can come here to sennett middle school
to read poetry to you guys for free
so yes I’m very wealthy
wealthy indeed

Bruce Dethlefsen was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1948 and moved to Wisconsin in 1966. He is Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2011/2012, under the sponsorship of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. Bruce’s poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and Your Daily Poem, where he was Poet-of-the-Month. Bruce also performs original music with Bill Orth as Obvious Dog on Cathryn Cofell’s CD, Lip. His new collection, Unexpected Shiny Things, is available from Cowfeather Press.