Elise Hempel

Gulf Trip

We parked the rental car along the causeway
to do as you’d asked but had to hurry

before the police could catch or ticket us.
I stepped out on the carcasses

of horseshoe crabs, the jagged rocks,
teetering, fumbling with the box,

the plastic bag five years locked tight.
We got you there, but you didn’t go quite

as you’d probably hoped or imagined –
no scene of calm blue water, smooth sand –

or as we’d planned, not gracefully, not
all at once, down one sure route

our eyes could follow in the vast
aimless place you chose to rest.

I gave three hasty, clumsy heaves,
and then the prevailing will of the waves

bucking away half of your ashes,
leaving half to the wind’s final wishes.

The Gray Case

I’ve kept it all these years – this simple box,
its tarnished double latches, battered gray
faux-leather, a half-bare handle on its way
to letting go, two little keyless locks.
This same exhausted, beaten-up old box
that held my mother’s curlers once, her hairspray,
her lipstick and perfume, her everyday
pink comb she’d fit within two cornered slots.

This box that with my jumble of dull things
inside it now on each car trip still holds
an old, tenacious powdered scent I bring
with me over strange, familiar thesholds.
Gray box I always think I’ve left behind,
that every trip, re-checking the trunk, I find.


Elise Hempel’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, Measure, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and The Midwest Quarterly, as well as in Poetry Daily and Ted Kooser’s 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, the 2016 String Poet Prize, and the 2017 No Chair Press Chapbook Contest.  Her full-length collection of poems, Second Rain, was published by Able Muse Press in 2016.     

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