American Life in Poetry: Column 500

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

This is our 500th weekly column, and we want to thank the newspapers who publish us, the poets who are so generous with their work, our sponsors The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English Department, and our many readers, in print and on line.

Almost every week I read in our local newspaper that some custodial parent has had to call in the law to stand by while a child is transferred to its other parent amidst some post-divorce hostility. So it’s a pleasure to read this poem by Elise Hempel, who lives in Illinois, in which the transfer is attended only by a little heartache.

The Transfer

His car rolls up to the curb, you switch
your mood, which doll to bring and rush

out again on the sliding steps
of your shoes half-on, forgetting to zip

your new pink coat in thirty degrees,
teeth and hair not brushed, already

passing the birch, mid-way between us,
too far to hear my fading voice

calling my rope of reminders as I
lean out in my robe, another Saturday

morning you’re pulled toward his smile, his gifts,
sweeping on two flattened rafts

from mine to his, your fleeting wave
down the rapids of the drive.


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 ©2013 by Elise Hempel and reprinted from Only Child, Finishing Line Press, 2014, by permission of Elise Hempel and the publisher. 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.