Many poems celebrate the joys of having children. Michigan poet Jeff Vande Zande reminds us that adults make mistakes, even with children...

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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.


TED KOOSER, U.S. Poet Laureate



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.


Jeff Vande Zande



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. “American Life in Poetry” appears Fridays in Northwest Life.