Poem of the Week, by Gregory Fraser

At the Degas Exhibit
– Gregory Fraser

The docent wends us to The Dance Class
and it all flits back: the studio downtown,
few bucks an hour, ragging off the finger

grease of toe-shoed cygnets, tutu-ed swans,
who glided hardwood blind to both
of me—spray of acne, high-top Keds.

I would clatter on the local after school
(weekends once the Christmas pageant neared),
my face, at every stop, floating outside

the window by my seat—a mask
tried on by stars in movie ads, commuters
cooling heels for later cars. Then Windex,

buff, till six, waving hello, farewell,
from glass to glass, plié to pointe—my hand
emitting squeaks, eliding dainty prints and streaks.

In my knapsack: comics, Catcher, lunch
untouched. And never once did I happen on
the courage even to speak to one of those

sugarplums of Rittenhouse, Society Hill.
Degas’s girls, our guide informs, practice
attitudes, inspected by their master

(one Jules Perrot) propped on his staff.
Note the Parisian mothers dabbed
on the wall in back. Yet I see only tights

that bear the stamp Massey Dance, hear
gripes about third position, giddy talk
of boys, and search the sides and corners

for my Old World counterpart—some
sponge-and-bucket kid from a ragged edge—
undersized, nearsighted, invisible to art.

​For more information on Gregory Fraser, please click here: ​

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

From the archives, because it's graduation central around here.

Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

Dear self,

This is the only photo I could find of you. You held an instamatic out in front of you, hoping somehow to capture your own face, and pressed the little black button. I remember exactly when you took that photo. You had just gotten out of the shower. You were wearing cut-offs and that blue workshirt you wore every day back then.

You wondered if maybe you could capture something in a photo that would tell you something you didn’t know about yourself.

Now I look at that photo and I think: You were on the verge. Of so much.

You don’t think of yourself as unhappy right now. You go to high school out in the country, you have friends, you belong to a bunch of things. You don’t think of yourself as lonely.

But in retrospect, you’re waiting and you don’t even know it. You’re waiting for the doors of your life to blow open, for the sky to lift high overhead.

What can I tell you now, from this long perspective of time?

You can let up some. You think you have to push yourself every day, that you have to maintain some high rigid standard, be ultra-disciplined, but you don’t. Why are you setting your alarm every morning for 4:45? So sleepy.

Then again, that discipline will come in handy years later, when you have three little kids –yes! you do end up with three kids, just like you wanted!– and you get up at four because it’s the only time you can write in silence.

So many things that you think matter so much right now do not, in the end, matter. Or they matter, but in a way that you’re too young to understand yet.

That one night you’re thinking about, when they took off and left you there? When you get to my age, instead of blaming yourself –too ugly, too boring, all my fault– you’ll shrug and think, it’s clear that whatever I was back then, I at least wasn’t mean.

All those times on the schoolbus, in school, walking the dirt roads past broken-down trailers, when you feel helpless in the face of others’ pain, will eventually be transformed into art. Even if you feel right now as if you’ll break apart from it, it will be worth it.

Most everything that you are going to live through will, in the end, be worth it.

It’s too late to go back and re-do things, but if I could, I’d tell you a few things that you’re too young to know:

When your grandmother and your father and your mother tell you not to change your plans, that the tickets are nonrefundable, that he knew how much you loved him, don’t listen to them. Go to your grandfather’s funeral, because when you don’t, you will forever regret it.

You don’t need to wash your hair every day.

Don’t listen when people tell you that love fades, that it becomes humdrum, ordinary, that this is the way it is for everyone. It’s not.

You are not ugly the way you fear you are.

Don’t be so afraid, out of self-consciousness, of trying things that it seems as if everyone around you already knows how to do. Skiing, for example. In two years you’re going to go to a college that has its own snow bowl; learn to ski.

Four years from now, when that boy you have the massive crush on comes to your room in Hepburn Hall with a bottle of wine and a bunch of roses, invite him in. Do not stand there in dumb shyness, your heart beating like a hummingbird’s, and thank him politely and watch his face fall and say goodnight and shut the door. Because that’s something else you’re going to regret forever.

When you’re afraid of something, tell someone.

When you need help, ask for it.

When your insides are whirling around and you feel as if you’re drowning, panicking and desperate, don’t put a calm smile on your face and walk around as if you’re fine.

There are lots of people who would love to help you.

There are lots of people who love you. You don’t know that yet, but you will.

In some ways, you’re going to live your life in reverse of most people your age. Awful things are going to happen to you when you’re young, and you’re going to feel much older than your friends. For many years your interior will not match your exterior.

But guess what? Time will go by, and your friends will catch up to you. Life catches up to everyone. The older you get the happier you get, the more rebellious, the less willing to suffer fools, to put up with bad behavior. You’re going to feel so free when you get older.

You are going to be so much happier when you’re older than you can believe possible right now. Most of that happiness will come when you let go of trying to come across a certain way, when you just let people see you for who you are.

It makes me sad that this is going to take you a long time to learn, and I wish I could change it for you, but I can’t.

So many years from the day you held that camera out and hoped this photo would reveal something you couldn’t explain, something you wanted so badly to know about yourself, you will look at it and feel this big sweep of love for that young girl, her whole life stretching out before her, as if she isn’t you.

But she is.



Poem of the Week, by Sharon Olds

Feared Drowned
– Sharon Olds

Suddenly nobody knows where you are,
your suit black as seaweed, your bearded
head slick as a seal’s.

Somebody watches the kids. I walk down the
edge of the water, clutching the towel
like a widow’s shawl around me.

None of the swimmers is just right.
Too short, too heavy, clean-shaven,
they rise out of the surf, the water
rushing down their shoulders.

Rocks stick out near shore like heads.
Kelp snakes in like a shed black suit
and I cannot find you.

My stomach begins to contract as if to
vomit salt water

when up the sand toward me comes
a man who looks very much like you,
his beard matted like beach grass, his suit
dark as a wet shell against his body.

Coming closer, he turns out
to be you – or nearly.
Once you lose someone it is never exactly
the same person who comes back.


For more information on Sharon Olds, please click here: http://www.sharonolds.net/biography/

My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265

Poem of the Week, by Ted Kooser


– Ted Kooser

Mid April already, and the wild plums
bloom at the roadside, a lacy white
against the exuberant, jubilant green
of new grass an the dusty, fading black
of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,
only the delicate, star-petaled
blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.

You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.

The meadowlarks are back, and the finches
are turning from green to gold. Those same
two geese have come to the pond again this year,
honking in over the trees and splashing down.
They never nest, but stay a week or two
then leave. The peonies are up, the red sprouts
burning in circles like birthday candles,

for this is the month of my birth, as you know,
the best month to be born in, thanks to you,
everything ready to burst with living.
There will be no more new flannel nightshirts
sewn on your old black Singer, no birthday card
addressed in a shaky but businesslike hand.
You asked me if I would be sad when it happened

and I am sad. But the iris I moved from your house
now hold in the dusty dry fists of their roots
green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,
as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.

​For more information on Ted Kooser, please click here: http://tedkooser.net/

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Poem of the Week, by Kate Clanchy

– Kate Clanchy

We all remember school, of course:
the lino warming, shoe bag smell, expanse
of polished floor. It’s where we learned
to wait: hot cheeked in class, dreaming,
bored, for cheesy milk, for noisy now.
We learned to count, to rule off days,
and pattern time in coloured squares:
purple English, dark green Maths.

We hear the bells, sometimes,
for years, the squeal and crack
of chalk on black. We walk, don’t run,
in awkward pairs, hoping for the open door,
a foreign teacher, fire drill. And love
is long aertex summers, tennis sweat,
and somewhere, someone singing flat.
The art room, empty, full of light.

​For more information on Kate Clanchy, please click here: http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poets/kate-clanchy

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts