American Life in Poetry: Column 443

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

There are thousands of poems about caring for the old, but I have never before seen one like this, in which a caregiver wades with an elderly person out into deep water, literally and figuratively. It’s by Marie Thurmer, a poet now living in Nebraska.

A Grandfather

We waded in the shallows,
holding his hands, then just
fingertips, as his feet
slowly lifted off the bottom.
The land did not stop
at the waterline, but simply
became unreachable.
His worn face bobbed above
the waves, breath in an O
as our words, fistfuls
of shimmering minnows,
scattered, lost on their way
to him. The tide carried
him out, then back a bit,
a gradual letting go into dark
waters, and we, still
in the ebb, could almost
mistake that O
for the response we wanted—
on the ins, I’ll remember you,
on the outs, goodbye.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Marie Thurmer, and reprinted by permission of the poet. Introduction copyright © 2018 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.