Ablution By Amy Fleury | Ted Kooser

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

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



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.


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 ©2013 by Amy Fleury from her most recent book of poems, Sympathetic Magic, Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Amy Fleury and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 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. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


More in Life

Proudly in defense of breastfeeding, in King County and everywhere | Public Health Insider

Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health—Seattle & King County, responded to the news that the United States government aggressively attempted to water down international support for breast-feeding through the World Health Organization.

My Favorite Martins

Steve Martin and Martin Short discuss bringing their two-man comedy extravaganza back to Seattle.

‘Bearskin’ is a thriller like no other

Sometimes, you just need to get away. Out of your element, far… Continue reading

Beer Walk coming Saturday to downtown Enumclaw

Tickets sold out at the last event in an hour, so get yours soon.

Spartans rock the cap and gown | Slideshow

Check out some photos from last Friday’s Sumner High School graduation.

Don’t miss out on the summer reading kickoff event on June 27.

Summer is almost here! Parents: What are you going to do to… Continue reading

Holy Family Cemetery gets facelift

New leadership helped complete cemetery cleaning project and add new features.

Enumclaw couple reach marriage milestone of 75 years

Fred and Jean Gramann have been married since 1943

You’ll enjoy ‘Us Against You’ more if you read the prequel

You’re going down. Down, defeated, beaten, and sent home. You’re losing, not… Continue reading

White River High School graduation 2018 | Slideshow

Hornets earned more than $2.8 million in scholarships this year.