A digital collage. A photograph of a lake bordered by a rocky ridge that blends into a photograph of a worn-wooden raft.

At the said-to-be bottomless pond
at the sand pit, the raft we discovered
was a heavy barn door, maybe ten feet
by twelve, halfway in, halfway out
of the water where others had left it,
probably older boys, always the first
to find something good, use it a while,
then leave it for us, Billy and Larry,
Danny and me, floating it out onto
the water, wading in after it, holding
onto its edge as we slid down the slope
up to our shoulders, then one by one
helped each other climb on, soaked
and shivering, standing to balance,
arms spread, each to a corner, facing
each other, frightened but laughing,
not a forethought among us for a pole
to push out with, nor a plank for an oar,
as we trusted that door as it floated
not on but just under the surface,
one corner sinking, then slowly lifting
as another went down, ankle deep
over the cold, bottomless darkness.
Seventy years later, I still feel that door
sinking under my weight, can still see
the white faces of Larry and Billy
and Danny looking across into mine
as we held our arms wide, as if to keep
some wild, free, invisible creature
there at the center from running away,
and at eighty I know what it was.

Ted Kooser’s most recent book is Cotton Candy: Poems Dipped Out of the Air (University of Nebraska Press, 2022). He is a former US Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He and his wife live on sixty-two acres of rural Nebraska. Photo by Stancey Hancock