Friday, October 20, 2006


American Life in Poetry: Column 082


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.


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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a parent, this is definitely a moment I can relate to.

Nice poem.

6:33 AM, October 30, 2006  
Blogger J.B. Rowell said...

Unfortunately, I can relate to it too - those moments of panic - ugh. Thanks for January.

7:00 AM, October 30, 2006  
Blogger J.B. Rowell said...

Thanks for . . . stopping by!

7:01 AM, October 30, 2006  
Blogger Jeff Vande Zande said...

Hey -- thanks for posting it!

I'm the poet.


Jeff Vande Zande

11:42 AM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger J.B. Rowell said...

Welcome Jeff! I'd love to hear more about the poems origins if/when you come back.

5:08 PM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger Jeff Vande Zande said...

Hi Julia,

I came back.

The origin of the poem? Well, I was giving my daughter a bath (that much was true) and I was frustrated with the way my life seemed cut up into things I had to do, so I imagined someone (a fictional bath giver) getting up to pour drink -- just that one little slip-up. The rest of the poem is imagined, except for the part about my wife. As I was thinking up the poem, I could hear her walking around upstairs.

I'd like to think that there is some Truth to my imaginings.


3:47 PM, November 08, 2006  
Blogger J.B. Rowell said...

Hi again Jeff,
Thanks for the background. I always wonder about where poems come from. I tend to be very literal and autbiographical - to a point - and marvel at the poets who make up scenerios completely. I think your right about a TRUTH to all imaginings. Thanks for the powerful poem.

6:18 PM, November 08, 2006  

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