American Life in Poetry: Column 742


Here’s a fine poem about a loving, attentive father, by Elise Hempel, who lives in Illinois. Notice how deftly she’s placed her rhymes so that we scarcely notice them as the words flow on. Ms. Hempel’s latest book, Ache, is available from Jacar Press.

His New Twin Daughters

Even now, after all
these years, my father, 89,
still uncertain when I call
whose voice it is—Ann's or mine—
saying Hi, Dad, and from where,
the next town or a different state,
still pausing in that powdered air,
this little silence as he waits
at the nursery door, discerning tone
and pitch, listening hard to know
which way to bend, which crib, the one
against the wall or by the window,
still concentrating, trying to keep
us separate, our needs, do what
she would, letting my mother sleep,
this moment's blank as he's about
to choose between us, make some shift
in the soft-lit dark, decide whose cry
it is tonight, which girl to lift,
to whisper or hum, which lullaby.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2018 by Elise Hempel, His New Twin Daughters, from Girl in the Clock, (No Chair Press, 2018). Poem reprinted by permission of Elise Hempel and the publisher.  Introduction copyright © 2019 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.