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American Life in Poetry
by Ted Kooser, U.S. Poet Laureate, 2004-2006

Many poems celebrate the joys of having children. Michigan poet Jeff Vande Zande reminds us that adults make mistakes, even with children they love, and that parenting is about fear as well as joy.

Clean

Her small body shines

with water and light.

Giggling, she squeals "daddy,"

splashes until his pants darken.

Five more minutes, he thinks,

stepping out quickly,

pouring himself a drink,

not expecting to return

to find her slipped under,

her tiny face staring up

through the undulating surface.

Before he can move,

or drop his scotch,

she raises her dripping head,

her mouth a perfect O.

The sound of her gulped breath

takes the wind out of him.

Her face,

pale and awed,

understands the other side

of water and air.

His wife didn't see,

doesn't know.

Her feet pulse and fade

in the upstairs joists.

His daughter cries,

slips from him, not giggling.

She wants out.

He tries to keep her

in the tub, in the light.

He's on his knees.

 

Reprinted from Rattle, Winter, 2005, by permission of the poet, whose most recent book is Into the Desperate Country, March Street Press, 2006. This weekly column is supported by the Poetry Foundation, the Library of Congress and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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