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American Life in Poetry

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.

Poem copyright 2012 by Marine Thumer, and reprinted by permission of the author. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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