Poem of the Week, by Lydia Davis


A few years ago my friend J sent me this poem, with the subject line Have you seen this? No, I wrote back, I have never in my life read this poem and how did I not know that Lydia Davis (who’s a genius of the short story) also wrote poetry? Later that night, J and I talked about the poem on the phone. We weren’t really talking about the poem, though, because what is there to say about it beyond This is life and this is life and this is life.

J and I have been friends for nearly our entire adult lives at this point, and we have seen each other through, with through standing in for those times when you don’t know how you will make it through. Once, many years ago now, during a time when I could barely make it off the couch, J and her husband showed up unbidden at my front door. Pack a bag, they said, you’re coming to stay with us for a while. And I packed a bag and went to stay with them for a while, and they fed me and watched over me and waited until I could function again. Sometimes my phone blinks with J’s name and a feeling comes over me: answer it. And in the silence between my hello and her first words is weight and pain.

We know how to help each other through, is what I’m trying to say. We all need someone to help us through. It doesn’t matter how long you live, heart is still and always will be so new. 

Head, Heart, by Lydia Davis

Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love.  They will all go.  But
even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head.  Help heart.

For more information on Lydia Davis, please click here.

(Note: this post and poem originally appeared here in 2017.)

My podcast: Words by Winter

Poem of the Week, by Betsy Franco

If you’re interested in taking one of my one-day creative writing workshops this fall, you can check them out here.

Every day my goal is to get to Amazing in the New York Times spelling bee game (I don’t care about Genius). The other night, at dinner with friends who also love the Bee, I told them “jouncing” had been my best word of the day. They looked at me with blank faces. What? I said. It’s a very common word!

But guess what? It’s not. Over the next three days, out of many word-ish adults queried, only my sister in law Julie and my friend Julie (two Julies!) had ever heard of the word. This led to a mini existential crisis: how is it possible I’ve used this word all my life and never noticed that no one knew what the hell I was saying?

Words obsessed me as a kid. I’d mutter words, think words, write words in the air with my finger. Nothing has changed. Last night one of the two jouncing Julies and I sat talking about how much we love words, even confounding combinations like temblor and trembler, careen and career, bounce and jounce.

Words! They’re alive.

Anatomy Class, by Betsy Franco

The chair has
The clock,
a face.
The kites have
long and twirly tails.
The tacks have
The books have
The toolbox has
a set of nails.
Our shoes have
the marbles,
The wooden desk has
legs and seat.
The cups have
My watch has
The classroom rulers all have

Heads, arms, hands, nails,
spines, legs, feet, tails,
face, lips, tongues, eyes.

What a surprise!

Is our classroom alive?

For more information about Betsy Franco, please check out her website.
Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Carl Dennis

IMG_3760One of my best friends and I sat on my porch last night talking about how our lives might have been different. What if I’d made myself deal with that suicide instead of trying to escape the pain? What if she’d said yes to that job? What if I’d stayed in New England? What if we’d mothered our children differently?

Floating in the air of the summer porch, our empty plates on the table before us, was the sense of the lives we might have lived, the ghost ships that didn’t carry usBut we didn’t know then what we know now, she said, and I thought back to earlier in the evening, when she was talking about time, how time is a writer’s only real trick.

IMG_3761The God Who Loves You, by Carl Dennis

It must be troubli
ng for the god who loves you   
to ponder how much happier you’d be today  
had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
It must be painful for him to watch you on Friday evenings   
driving home from the office, content with your week—
three fine houses sold to deserving families—
knowing as he does exactly what would have happened   
had you gone to your second choice for college,   
knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted   
whose ardent opinions on painting and music   
would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.   
A life thirty points above the life you’re living   
on any scale of satisfaction. And every point   
a thorn in the side of the god who loves you.   
You don’t want that, a large-souled man like you
who tries to withhold from your wife the day’s disappointments   
so she can save her empathy for the children.   
And would you want this god to compare your wife   
with the woman you were destined to meet on the other campus?   
It hurts you to think of him ranking the conversation   
you’d have enjoyed over there higher in insight   
than the conversation you’re used to.
And think how this loving god would feel   
knowing that the man next in line for your wife   
would have pleased her more than you ever will   
even on your best days, when you really try.   
Can you sleep at night believing a god like that
is pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives   
you’re spared by ignorance? The difference between what is
and what could have been will remain alive for him   
even after you cease existing, after you catch a chill   
running out in the snow for the morning paper,
losing eleven years that the god who loves you   
will feel compelled to imagine scene by scene   
unless you come to the rescue by imagining him   
no wiser than you are, no god at all, only a friend   
no closer than the actual friend you made at college,
the one you haven’t written in months. Sit down tonight   
and write him about the life you can talk about   
with a claim to authority, the life you’ve witnessed,   
which for all you know is the life you’ve chosen.   
For more information about Carl Dennis, please click here.



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Poem of the Week, by Maggie Smith

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

For more information about Maggie Smith, please click here.