March 16, 2014 in Features

American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06
 

Here’s another lovely poem to honor the caregivers among us. Amy Fleury lives and teaches in Louisiana.

 Ablution

Because one must be naked to get clean,

my dad shrugs out of his pajama shirt,

steps from his boxers and into the tub

as I brace him, whose long illness

has made him shed modesty too.

Seated on the plastic bench, he holds

the soap like a caught fish in his lap,

waiting for me to test the water’s heat

on my wrist before turning the nozzle

toward his pale skin. He leans over

to be doused, then hands me the soap

so I might scrub his shoulders and neck,

suds sluicing from spine to buttock cleft.

Like a child he wants a washcloth

to cover his eyes while I lather

a palmful of pearlescent shampoo

into his craniotomy-scarred scalp

and then rinse clear whatever soft hair

is left. Our voices echo in the spray

and steam of this room where once,

long ago, he knelt at the tub’s edge

to pour cups of bathwater over my head.

He reminds me to wash behind his ears,

and when he judges himself to be clean,

I turn off the tap. He grips the safety bar,

steadies himself, and stands. Turning to me,

his body is dripping and frail and pink.

And although I am nearly forty,

he has this one last thing to teach me.

I hold open the towel to receive him.

Poem copyright 2013 by Amy Fleury from “Sympathetic Magic” (Southern Illinois Univeristy Press), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. 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.

Get stories like this in a free daily email


Please keep it civil. Don't post comments that are obscene, defamatory, threatening, off-topic, an infringement of copyright or an invasion of privacy. Read our forum standards and community guidelines.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus