When I open the door, I smile and wave to people who only
have eyes and who are infinitely joyful. I see my children,
but only the backs of their heads. When they turn around, I
don’t recognize them. They once had mouths but now only
have eyes. I want to leave the room but when I do, I am
outside, and everyone else is inside. So next time, I open the
door and stay inside. But then everyone is outside. Agnes
said that solitude and freedom are the same. My solitude is
like the grass. I become so aware of its presence that it too
begins to feel like an audience. Sometimes my solitude grabs
my phone and takes a selfie, posts it somewhere for others
to see and like. Sometimes people comment on how
beautiful my solitude is and sometimes my solitude replies
with a heart. It begins to follow the accounts of solitudes
that are half its age. What if my solitude is depressed? What
if even my solitude doesn’t want to be alone?
Copyright © 2023 by Victoria Chang. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 3, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
Written in Platte Cañon, Colorado.
Spirit that form'd this scene,
These tumbled rock-piles grim and red,
These reckless heaven-ambitious peaks,
These gorges, turbulent-clear streams, this naked freshness,
These formless wild arrays, for reasons of their own,
I know thee, savage spirit—we have communed together,
Mine too such wild arrays, for reasons of their own;
Was't charged against my chants they had forgotten art?
To fuse within themselves its rules precise and delicatesse?
The lyrist's measur'd beat, the wrought-out temple's grace—column and polish'd arch forgot?
But thou that revelest here—spirit that form'd this scene,
They have remember'd thee.
This poem is in the public domain.
It’s autumn, and we’re getting rid
of books, getting ready to retire,
to move some place smaller, more
manageable. We’re living in reverse,
age-proofing the new house, nothing
on the floors to trip over, no hindrances
to the slowed mechanisms of our bodies,
a small table for two. Our world is
shrinking, our closets mostly empty,
gone the tight skirts and dancing shoes,
the bells and whistles. Now, when
someone comes to visit and admires
our complete works of Shakespeare,
the hawk feather in the open dictionary,
the iron angel on a shelf, we say
take them. This is the most important
time of all, the age of divestment,
knowing what we leave behind is
like the fragrance of blossoming trees
that grows stronger after
you’ve passed them, breathing
them in for a moment before
breathing them out. An ordinary
Tuesday when one of you says
I dare you, and the other one
Copyright © 2023 by Dorianne Laux. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 4, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.
"I cannot go to school today,"
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more—that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut—my eyes are blue—
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke—
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is—what?
What's that? What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"
From Shel Silverstein: Poems and Drawings; originally appeared in Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. Copyright © 2003 by HarperCollins Children's Books. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
I might as well begin by saying how much I like the title. It gets me right away because I’m in a workshop now so immediately the poem has my attention, like the Ancient Mariner grabbing me by the sleeve. And I like the first couple of stanzas, the way they establish this mode of self-pointing that runs through the whole poem and tells us that words are food thrown down on the ground for other words to eat. I can almost taste the tail of the snake in its own mouth, if you know what I mean. But what I’m not sure about is the voice, which sounds in places very casual, very blue jeans, but other times seems standoffish, professorial in the worst sense of the word like the poem is blowing pipe smoke in my face. But maybe that’s just what it wants to do. What I did find engaging were the middle stanzas, especially the fourth one. I like the image of clouds flying like lozenges which gives me a very clear picture. And I really like how this drawbridge operator just appears out of the blue with his feet up on the iron railing and his fishing pole jigging—I like jigging— a hook in the slow industrial canal below. I love slow industrial canal below. All those l’s. Maybe it’s just me, but the next stanza is where I start to have a problem. I mean how can the evening bump into the stars? And what’s an obbligato of snow? Also, I roam the decaffeinated streets. At that point I’m lost. I need help. The other thing that throws me off, and maybe this is just me, is the way the scene keeps shifting around. First, we’re in this big aerodrome and the speaker is inspecting a row of dirigibles, which makes me think this could be a dream. Then he takes us into his garden, the part with the dahlias and the coiling hose, though that’s nice, the coiling hose, but then I’m not sure where we’re supposed to be. The rain and the mint green light, that makes it feel outdoors, but what about this wallpaper? Or is it a kind of indoor cemetery? There’s something about death going on here. In fact, I start to wonder if what we have here is really two poems, or three, or four, or possibly none. But then there’s that last stanza, my favorite. This is where the poem wins me back, especially the lines spoken in the voice of the mouse. I mean we’ve all seen these images in cartoons before, but I still love the details he uses when he’s describing where he lives. The perfect little arch of an entrance in the baseboard, the bed made out of a curled-back sardine can, the spool of thread for a table. I start thinking about how hard the mouse had to work night after night collecting all these things while the people in the house were fast asleep, and that gives me a very strong feeling, a very powerful sense of something. But I don’t know if anyone else was feeling that. Maybe that was just me. Maybe that’s just the way I read it.
"Workshop" from The Art of Drowning, by Billy Collins, © 1995. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.