American Life in Poetry: Column 641

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BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

We’ve used several of Elise Hempel’s poems in this column, and this one is from her latest book from Able Muse Press, Second Rain. To be a child, out for a fast ride in a boat with a father, well, that’s a fine time. Elise Hempel lives in Illinois.

Outboard Motor

After my father unhooded it, lugged it down
the steep path to the boat and clamped it on,
drew back the cord again and again like a pitch
about to be thrown, grimacing with each
whining refusal, and muttered, finally said
She doesn’t want to start, after it always did,
and we shoved away from the pier, rowed out of the dense
tangle of weeds and lily pads, not once
did our resting oars uncross their feet,
not even as we entered the shallow inlet
between our lake and the next, just purring through
the reeds in that narrow passage, over the billow
of silt, the rocks, never getting stuck before
we flew through the waves, his hand guiding the tiller.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Elise Hempel, “Outboard Motor,” from Second Rain, (Able Muse Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Elise Hempel and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2017 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.

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