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Poems By David Romtvedt


David Romtvedt teaches in the MFA program for writers at the University of Wyoming and served as the state's poet laureate from 2003 to 2011.  Today, we’ll hear three of his poems about his daughter.

Sunday Morning Early

My daughter and I paddle red kayaks
across the lake. Pulling hard,
we slip through the water.
Far from either shore,
my daughter is a young woman
and suddenly everything is a metaphor
for how short a time we are granted: 

the red boats on the blue black water,
the russet and gold of late summer’s grasses,
the empty sky. We stop and listen to the stillness.
I say, “It’s Sunday, and here we are
in the church of the out of doors,”
then wish I’d kept quiet.  That’s the trick in life—
learning to leave well enough alone.
Our boats drift to where the chirring
of grasshoppers reaches us from the rocky hills.
A clap of thunder.  I want to say something truer
than I love you.  I want my daughter to know that,
through her, I live a life that was closed to me.
I paddle up, lean out, and touch her hand.
I start to speak then stop. 

Surprise Breakfast

One winter morning I get up early
to clean the ash from the grate
and find my daughter, eight, in the kitchen
thumping around pretending she has a peg leg

while also breaking eggs into a bowl—
separating yolks and whites, mixing oil
and milk.  Her hands are smooth,
not from lack of labor but youth. 

She’s making pancakes for me, a surprise
I have accidentally ruined.  “You never
get up early,” she says, measuring
the baking powder, beating the egg whites. 

It’s true.  When I wake, I roll to the side
and pull the covers over my head.
“It was too cold to sleep,” I say.
“I thought I’d get the kitchen warm.”

Aside from the scraping of the small flat shovel
on the iron grate, and the wooden spoon turning
in the bowl, the room is quiet.  I lift the gray ash
and lay it carefully into a bucket to take outside.

“How’d you lose your leg?”  I ask.
“At sea.  I fell overboard in a storm
and a shark attacked me, but I’m fine.”
She spins, a little batter flying from the spoon.

I can hear the popping of the oil in the pan.
“Are you ready?” she asks, thumping to the stove.
Fork in hand, I sit down, hoping that yes,
I am ready, or nearly so, or one day will be.

Late Winter Ski Trip

Rubbing my hands to keep warm,
I sit in the trees and watch the snow hut melt,
the rain falling like girders
from the tops of buildings.

I stare into the mist
trying to see down the mountain
to the houses below,
smoke rising from the chimneys.

My daughter and I eat breakfast—raisins and nuts
in tin cups of yogurt.  She paces, now and again
looking up at the dark clouds.  Under her coat her skin
is smooth with only buds where there will be breasts.

The rain turns to hail—teeth cracked
from the mouth of the sky.  Finished eating
and anxious to set off, we nearly pour
the sticky red klister wax onto our skis.

Now the hail softens becoming snow,
the disembodied wings of angels falling.
There’s no point in waiting any longer,
no point in staying forever in the trees.

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