Newborn Inspiration: D. Nurkse on Parenting

Poet Laureate Ted Kooser features this touching poem about bringing home a newborn baby for the first time by Brooklyn’s own D. Nurkse in American Life in Poetry, the go-to source for contemporary lyrical insights.


First Night


We brought that newborn home from Maimonides

and showed her nine blue glittering streets.

Would she like the semis with hoods of snow?

The precinct? Bohack’s? A lit diner?

Her eyes were huge and her gaze tilted

like milk in a pan, toward shadow.

Would she like the tenement, three dim flights,

her crib that smelled of Lemon Pledge?

We slept beside her in our long coats,

rigid with fatigue in the unmade bed.

Her breath woke us with its slight catch.

Would she approve of gray winter dawn?

We showed her daylight in our cupped hands.

Then the high clocks began booming

in this city and the next, we counted for her,

but just the strokes, not the laggards

or the tinny echoes, and we taught her

how to wait, how to watch, how to be held,

in that icy room, until our own alarm chimed.

dennis Nurkse


Nurkse is the son of the eminent economist Ragnar Nurkse. He has taught workshops at Rikers Island, and his poems about prison life appeared in The American Poetry Review, Evergreen Review, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, The Kenyon Review, and other magazines. He has taught at The New School University and Columbia University, and is currently on the faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. He has translated anonymous medieval and flamenco Spanish lyric poems and has written about the Spanish pastoral poems by contemporary Giannina Braschi. His work has appeared in The Evergreen Review, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, The Times Literary Supplement, Ploughshares, The Paris Review. He has won grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, NEA, and NYFA.

“Novel To Be Read With Closed Eyes”; “Letter From Pico”, Ars Interpres International
Staggered Lights, Owl Creek Press, (July 1990), ISBN 978-0-937669-42-6
Voices Over Water, Graywolf Press (July 1993), ISBN 978-1-55597-188-5
Leaving Xaia, Four Way Books
The Rules of Paradise, Four Way books
Burnt Island. Alfred A. Knopf. 2005. ISBN 978-1-4000-4350-7.
The Border Kingdom, Alfred A. Knopf, August 8, 2008
A Night in Brooklyn, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem above is from Nurkse’s new book A Night in Brooklyn, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Order on

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