NPM Curated Poem 5: Gary Dop’s “Father, Child, Water”

My husband complains sometimes that I don’t read enough male poets.  I figure, everyone else is reading them, so why do they need me?  But I have been trying to diversify my reading list recently, and a good poet who just happens to be male is Gary Dop, so today’s poem is his “Father, Child, Water,” the title poem from his 2015 collection from Red Hen.  I got this poem from

Father, Child, Water

By Gary Dop

I lift your body to the boat
before you drown or choke or slip too far
beneath.  I didn’t think—just jumped, just did
what I did like the physics
that flung you in.  My hands clutch under
year-old arms, between your life
jacket and your bobbing frame, pushing you,
like a fountain cherub, up and out.
I’m fooled by the warmth pulsing from
the gash on my thigh, sliced wide and clean
by an errant screw on the stern.
No pain.  My legs kick out blood below.
My arms strain
against our deaths to hold you up
as I lift you, crying, reaching, to the boat.


I enjoy that this poem begins in media res, as any good epic would, and I love the prosodic elements throughout.  What I mean by “prosody” is how the language sounds when you hear it read aloud, whether actually out loud or in the voice you hear in your head when you read it to yourself.  It’s the artful use of sound and rhythm in the lines.

Here, I’m particularly drawn to the alliteration that begins in the first couplet–“body,” “boat,” “before”–and continues throughout, even when the alliterated consonants start participating in consonant blends (“physics” // “flung,” “screw…stern”), so that the familiar consonant sounds are somehow both repeated (we still hear that “f”), but also changed (it’s “fl,” not “f,” now).  It’s a great figure for what happens as a parent–your child is both like you, and not like you, simultaneously.


YOUR ASSIGNMENT:  Write a poem that tells a story and uses alliteration.  Don’t use too much!  It’s easy to go overboard (I didn’t originally intend that to be a pun, but whatever).

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