Poem of the Week, by Joyce Sutphen

I was a girl, walking along the Charles River in Boston on a sunny day, no one else within earshot, when suddenly a young couple got out of a car next to me, the girl in a tight sundress and heels, big smile, radiating friendliness. Her male partner silent, a half-smile on his face.

The girl was full of questions for me. She invited me to join them for coffee, tea, lunch. It’ll be fun, she said. That big smile. But something in me was wary. Something in me knew to smile, excuse myself, and back away.

I’ve never forgotten this five-minute encounter. It’s haunted me for decades, but why? Because they were going to do something terrible to you, I woke up thinking a few weeks ago. They were going to do something indescribably awful, and somehow you knew it.

Last week some friends and I were talking about all the narrow escapes in our lives, all the twists and turns of fate that somehow we’d eluded. Do you think life is just a never-ending series of lucky misses? one of them asked.

My Luck, by Joyce Sutphen

When I was five, my father,
who loved me, ran me over
with a medium-sized farm tractor.

I was lucky though; I tripped
and slipped into a small depression,
which caused the wheels to tread

lightly on my leg, which had already
been broken (when I was three)
by a big dog, who liked to play rough,

and when I was nine, I fell
from the second-floor balcony
onto the cement by the back steps,

and as I went down I saw my life go by
and thought: “This is exactly how
Wiley Coyote feels, every time!”

Luckily, I mostly landed on my feet,
and only had to go on crutches
for a few months in the fifth grade—

and shortly after that, my father,
against his better judgment,
bought the horse I’d wanted for so long.

All the rest of my luck has to do
with highways and ice—things that
could have happened, but didn’t.

Click here for more information about the wondrous Joyce Sutphen.


Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Joyce Sutphen

My poems podcast, Words by Wintercan be found here.

“Paco, my one real goal in life is for you to be happy.” Actual words that came out of my mouth yesterday. There’s no come on, hurry up about walks with this boy. He gets to choose where he wants to go and how long he wants to spend sniffing that clump of grass. He gets to inspect a dead worm all he wants, and if he wants to roll in it, okay, fine (kind of).

We wander and inspect and I try to see the world through his nose and ears and eyes. His love of the world and his fascination with the garbage cans in the same alley we walk down day after day makes me think of this beautiful poem, by a poet who somehow, always, manages to find words to keep the soul alive.

What to Do, by Joyce Sutphen

Wake up early, before the lights come on
in the houses on a street that was once
a farmer’s field at the edge of a marsh.

Wander from room to room, hoping to find
words that could be enough to keep the soul
alive, words that might be useful or kind

in a world that is more wasteful and cruel
every day. Remind us that we are
like grass that fades, fleeting clouds in the sky,

and then give us just one of those moments
when we were paying attention, when we gave
up everything to see the world in

a grain of sand or to behold
a rainbow in the sky, the heart
leaping up.

For more information about Joyce Sutphen, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Joyce Sutphen

IMG_4786Last month I was in the foothills of the Adirondacks, poking around my parents’ giant vegetable garden (the thing could supply a small farmer’s market) talking tomatoes and beans with my father. Every summer and fall growing up we had an assembly line in the kitchen, washing and chopping and blanching and bagging zucchini and corn and beans and all kinds of squash for the freezer. Like most of the men I grew up around, my father always wears a hat (cap for everyday, hat-hat for solemn occasions), goes to the diner every morning, knows how to drive a tractor and change its oil, and has spent his life working hard and helping his neighbors and voting in elections. Joyce Sutphen’s elegant, fierce poems bring me back to my childhood. Some of them, like this one below, bring me to tears.

Our Fathers
     – Joyce Sutphen

Our fathers, who lived all their lives on earth—
are going now. They have given us all
we need, and when we asked, they gave us more.

Their names are beautiful to us, holy
as the names of stars, as familiar
as the roads we traveled, falling asleep

on the way from one farm to another.
Their kingdoms were small; they were never
interested in more than one homestead,

and as for evil: although they could not
keep it from us, they tried to keep us from
temptation, though we were like all children

and wanted our own power and glory,
world without end, forever and amen.


For more information on Joyce Sutphen, please click here.

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