One morning, my wife and I followed our eight-year-old
daughter along a crowded beach
just far enough behind her that she wasn’t aware
we followed, as she walked with her energetic stride,
swinging her arms as though she were singing.
We marveled at her independence, at her
fearlessness; we compared her to other
children we knew, who would never have ventured
so far with such self-confidence.
We were congratulating ourselves on our excellent parenting
skills, laughing proudly at her spirit,
wondering where she was going with such
lively determination, when she stopped
and turned to look back: she was crying, with such
deep heaves she could hardly, breathe, desperately
lost. She’d been frantically looking for us
and the place we’d left our towels—she feared
we’d forgotten her, gone home without her.
What could we say, kneeling beside her
in the bright sun—we’d been right there
the whole time, behind her, laughing affectionately
at the way she walked, as she walked
the wrong direction to find us, at the way
she looked from behind as she searched for us,
as she howled in such terror
we thought she was singing?
by Michael Hettich, from The Halo of Bees: New and Selected Poems, 1990-2022
Editor’s Note: The conversational tone of this narrative poem draws the reader into what seems to be an easy moment in a parent’s life, making the end of the story all the more bittersweet.