Elise Hempel – A Poem in Four Parts
As My Daughter Leaves
Eight friends, like sisters, one by one
arrive now as she’s almost gone,
and I don’t care about the mess,
finally relaxed and loose
as she rolls her jeans tight
and forces flat her coats to fit,
welcoming everyone in as she’s
about to exit, finally this
open door just as the last
box is sealed, her trunk thuds shut.
They do what they’re supposed to do,
washing the dishes so she can take
the Tupperware, the small blender to make
her blueberry smoothies in Texas too.
They do her laundry as they should,
careful and slow, then fold and stack,
arrange a line of shoes to pack,
rummage for her lost diamond studs.
All day my dutiful hands behave,
moving against the way I feel,
my right one finally in a wave,
then lowering, turning to assist
my mouth in throwing her a kiss
as she backs out, straightens the wheel.
I take her single poster down and peel
away the dabs of putty left behind it,
then pull the blue-tweed curtain off, reveal
the window frame, the rod that never fit,
the yellowed, raveled cord with which each day
she welcomed, shed the world. And with each wall
I strip to white again, that old cliché
of home rings true in the echoes after all,
this house becoming scaffolding, a structure,
a transient space as I survey the wide
new view, more light, and see my open future
with thrill and fear combined, that spinning ride
I can’t get off – no safety strap, no seat,
the floor that drops away beneath my feet.
How to return
to myself now, my core,
who I was before
she was born,
to hear my pure voice
when it sang one part
before harmony’s art,
how to make my own choice
of melody again,
of tempo and time,
how to follow a line
not moving in unison
with her needs and wants,
how to sing completely
in rhythm, on key
without her accompaniment.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
I have a poem called “Beauty,” in which I describe two things: an artist-made glass vase with uneven, winding stripes of different colors (a vase you wouldn’t find next to 50 identical others on a shelf at Walmart), and my teenage daughter’s moment of choosing freedom from her abusive boyfriend and heading uncertainly into the “blank future.” I suppose I can say that beauty is the opposite of conforming, of “mass-produced.” Beauty is bravery and risk.
Elise Hempel was born in Evanston, Illinois, and grew up in suburban Chicago. She received her BA and MA from Eastern Illinois University, and she has worked as an editor, proofreader, copywriter and university English instructor. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, Measure, Valparaiso Poetry Review, The Evansville Review, and The Midwest Quarterly, as well as in Ted Kooser’s weekly column, American Life in Poetry. She is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award and the winner of the 2015 Able Muse Write Prize in Poetry. In 2014 her chapbook, Only Child, was published by Finishing Line Press. Second Rain (Able Muse Press, 2016) is her first full length collection.