There Are No Ideas But in Things

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“There Are No Ideas But in Things”= (Find Things That Say Things, Write)

Shaun Wayman, 2016-17

On the one ton temple bell

A moon moth sleeps


Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)

Nikki Giovanni

I was born in the Congo

I walked to the fertile crescent and built

  the sphinx

I designed a pyramid so tough that a star

  that only glows every one hundred years falls     5

  into the center giving divine perfect light

I am bad


I sat on the throne

  drinking nectar with allah

I got hot and sent an ice age to europe            10

  to cool my thirst

My oldest daughter is nefertiti

  the tears from my birth pains

  created the nile

I am a beautiful woman                             15


I gazed on the forest and burned

  out the sahara desert

  with a packet of goat's meat

  and a change of clothes

I crossed it in two hours                          20

I am a gazelle so swift

  so swift you can't catch me


  For a birthday present when he was three

I gave my son hannibal an elephant

He gave me rome for mother's day                   25

My strength flows ever on


My son noah built new/ark and

I stood proudly at the helm

  as we sailed on a soft summer day

I turned myself into myself and was                30


  men intone my loving name


  All praises All praises

I am the one who would save


I sowed diamonds in my back yard                   35

My bowels deliver uranium

  the filings from my fingernails are

  semi-precious jewels

  On a trip north

I caught a cold and blew                           40

My nose giving oil to the arab world

I am so hip even my errors are correct

I sailed west to reach east and had to round off

  the earth as I went

  The hair from my head thinned and gold was       45

  laid across three continents


I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal

I cannot be comprehended

  except by my permission


I mean … I … can fly                               50

  like a bird in the sky

If I Had a Tail

Queens of the Stone Age

Gitchy, gitchy
Ooh la la
Da doo ron ron
You won't get far

I'm machine

I'm obsolete
In the land of the free

I wanna suck, I wanna lick

I want to cry and I want to spit
Tears of pleasure
Tears of pain
They trickle down your face the same

It's how you look

Not how you feel
A city of glass
With no heart

If I had a tail

I'd own the night
If I had a tail
I'd swat the flies

Yeah, oh oh, oh oh, oh oh

Yeah, oh oh, oh oh, oh oh

Gitchy, gitchy

Ooh la la
Da doo ron ron
It won't get far

Animals in

The midnight zone
When you own the world
You're always home

Get your hands dirty

Roll up them sleeves
Brainwashed or true believers?
Buy flash cars
Diamond rings
Expensive holes to bury things

-How does one find creativity?


Billy Collins

Today I pass the time reading
a favorite haiku,
saying the few words over and over.

It feels like eating
the same small, perfect grape
again and again

I walk through the house reciting it
and leave its letters falling
through the air of every room.

I stand by the big silence of the piano and say it.
I say it in front of a painting of the sea.
I tap out its rhythm on an empty shelf.

I listen to myself saying it,
then I say it without listening,
then I hear it without saying it.

And when the dog looks up at me,
I kneel down on the floor
and whisper it into each of his long white ears.

It’s the one about the one-ton
temple bell
with the moth sleeping on the surface,

and every time I say it, I feel the excruciating
pressure of the moth
on the surface of the iron bell.

When I say it at the window,
the bell is the world
and I am the moth resting there.

When I say it into the mirror,
I am the heavy bell
and the moth is life with its papery wings.

And later, when I say it to you in the dark,
you are the bell,
and I am the tongue of the bell, ringing you,

and the moth has flown
from its line
and moves like a hinge in the air above our bed.

Shaun Wayman

I am not from Tokyo-ku and its many

districts. The cherry blossoms of Ueno

Park did not perfume my childhood in

early April. The sakura did not shed

its puce petals and  offer a velvet spring

blanket to play on. I did not learn to slurp

ramen noodles with my father, who was

not a salary man, red faced by 8 pm, six

Yebisu Premium Black Beers on his tab. He

did not yell at my mother on the Yamanote

train line at Asakusa station when she

became pregnant with my sister. She

did not walk silently behind him on the

way home. I did not feel their shame. Nor

did I look for girls in Shibuya, its ultra hip,

"kakkoi" style did not  influence my early

teenage years. I did not indulge the tattoo

man and ink the words of Buson and his

famous haiku along my fore arm, the

one about the one-ton temple bell a moon

moth, folded into sleep. I am not from the

electric nights of Shinjuku, every corner

lit up and alive as in animation. I do not

fondly recall gambling in the pachinko

parlors and ring ring ringing of the pinball

payouts in my early twenties. Nor does the

sound of the man hawking sweet potatoes,

yaaaaaaaakimoooooooooono,  roasted

in wood burning ovens elicit memories of

visits to my grandfather and grandmother's

village in Izu peninsula, their hunched frames

relics of rice fields and want from the years

after the war. And at night, when I tell you of

my father’s suicide in the forest of Aokigahara,

you do not shake your head and look away,

remembering also your chronicles, their arc

stumbling from childhood to middle age as a

moth in flight, its erratic charge from light bulb

to  window to light bulb outside our bedroom. 


Billy Collins
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.
Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.
And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.
We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.
Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page–
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.
And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.
Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page
a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil–
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet–
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

-Stolen words prompt

“Look Around”:

Paige Bailey

-Snapshot prompt: Some place Big!


Facing It

Yusef Kumonyaka

My black face fades,

hiding inside the black granite.

I said I wouldn't,

dammit: No tears.

I'm stone. I'm flesh.

My clouded reflection eyes me

like a bird of prey, the profile of night

slanted against morning. I turn

this way--the stone lets me go.

I turn that way--I'm inside

the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

again, depending on the light

to make a difference.

I go down the 58,022 names,

half-expecting to find

my own in letters like smoke.

I touch the name Andrew Johnson;

I see the booby trap's white flash.

Names shimmer on a woman's blouse

but when she walks away

the names stay on the wall.

Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's

wings cutting across my stare.

The sky. A plane in the sky.

A white vet's image floats

closer to me, then his pale eyes

look through mine. I'm a window.

He's lost his right arm

inside the stone. In the black mirror

a woman's trying to erase names:

No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

My Wicked Wicked Ways

Sandra Cisneros
This is my father.

See? He is young.

He looks like Errol Flynn.

He is wearing a hat

that tips over one eye,

a suit that fits him good,

and baggy pants.

He is also wearing

those awful shoes,

the two-toned ones

my mother hates. 

Here is my mother.

She is not crying.

She cannot look into the lens

because the sun is bright.

The woman,

the one my father knows,

is not here.

She does not come till later. 

My mother will get very mad.

Her face will turn red

and she will throw one shoe.

My father will say nothing.

After a while everyone

will forget it.

Years and years will pass.

My mother will stop mentioning it. 

This is me she is carrying.

I am a baby.

She does not know

I will turn out bad.

………………………………………………..Please Photograph This Prompt: 3 specific ideas + stolen words/phrases

“My Room”:

Julia Hill

-Some place Small! Prompt ………………………

Shoveling Snow with Buddha

Billy Collins

In the usual iconography of the temple or the local Wok
you would never see him doing such a thing,
tossing the dry snow over the mountain
of his bare, round shoulder,
his hair tied in a knot,
a model of concentration.

Sitting is more his speed, if that is the word

for what he does, or does not do.

Even the season is wrong for him.

In all his manifestations, is it not warm and slightly humid?
Is this not implied by his serene expression,
that smile so wide it wraps itself around the waist of the universe?

But here we are, working our way down the driveway,

one shovelful at a time.
We toss the light powder into the clear air.
We feel the cold mist on our faces.
And with every heave we disappear
and become lost to each other
in these sudden clouds of our own making,
these fountain-bursts of snow.

This is so much better than a sermon in church,

I say out loud, but Buddha keeps on shoveling.
This is the true religion, the religion of snow,
and sunlight and winter geese barking in the sky,
I say, but he is too busy to hear me.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow

as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway
you could back the car down easily
and drive off into the vanities of the world
with a broken heater fan and a song on the radio.

All morning long we work side by side,

me with my commentary
and he inside the generous pocket of his silence,
until the hour is nearly noon
and the snow is piled high all around us;
then, I hear him speak.

After this, he asks,

can we go inside and play cards?

Certainly, I reply, and I will heat some milk

and bring cups of hot chocolate to the table
while you shuffle the deck,
and our boots stand dripping by the door.

Aaah, says the Buddha, lifting his eyes

and leaning for a moment on his shovel
before he drives the thin blade again
deep into the glittering white snow.


Drinking a Pabst Blue Ribbon with Jesus

Shaun Wayman


It’s six o’clock and happy hour is nearly finished.

PBR drafts are a buck twenty five at Mitchells,

and I’m happy to be drinking beer at cut

rate costs and even happier to be

drinking beer with Jesus. 


We joke easy. I tell him the one about

the guy who walks into a bar with a

duck on his head. He tells me the

one about the mustard seed

and the barren fig tree.


He is wearing a red flannel shirt, and

of course his hair is long and blond and

flecked with saw dust.  He muscles

the glass with calloused fingers-

large and circular- the products of a

thousand hours on the saw horse.   


His hands seemed poised to hold a thousand

fishes with a thousand loaves in this way. And

his red flannel shirt seems to reflect crimson

in the neon lights and it could be that he has

bathed in a thousand lights of a thousand Mitchells



what’s that waitress?

yes, we’ll take two more.

*Some discussion on the Buson haiku, taken from
The haiku by Buson:

釣鐘に止りてねむる胡蝶 かな
tsurigane ni tomarite nemuru kochô kana

is indeed one of his most famous and most often translated. Harold Henderson, in his Introduction to Haiku, renders it literally as follows:

Temple-bell-on settling sleep butterfly kana

where “kana” is a kireji, a word in Japanese that governs the relationship between two parts of a sentence and here is a sort of unvoiced sigh or sotto voce “that’s so.”

Collins apparently saw the translation that was published in X.J. Kennedy’s Introduction to Poetry:

On the one-ton temple bell

On the one-ton temple bell
a moon moth, folded into sleep,
sits still


A frail white butterfly, beneath the spell
Of noon, is sleeping on the huge bronze bell

Harold Stewart

Stewart, Net of Fireflies, 52


on the temple bell.

Robert Hass

Hass, Essential Haiku (1994), 108

Butterfly asleep

Folded soft on temple bell …
Then bronze gong rang!

Beilenson, Peter

Japanese Haiku (1955); Haiku Garland (1968); Little Treasury (1980)

Clinging to the bell

he dozes so peacefully
this new butterfly

Sam Hamill

Hamill, trans, Sound of Water; Hamill, trans, Little Book of Haiku, 61

on a temple bell

alighted and sleeping
this butterfly

William J. Higginson

Modern Haiku 35:2 (summer 2004), 52 (a)

On the great temple bell

stopped from flight and sleeping
the small butterfly

Miner, Earl

Miner, Japanese Linked Poetry; Bowers, Classic Tradition
On the temple bell
has settled, and is fast asleep,
a butterfly.

Harold G. Henderson

Henderson, Introduction; Modern Haiku 4:3 (1973), 51 (a); Frogpond 14:2 (summer 1991), 31 (a)

On the temple bell

Something rests in quiet sleep.
Look, a butterfly!

Buchanan, Daniel C.

Buchanan, One Hundred Famous Haiku (1973), 65

On the temple’s great

Bronze bell, a butterfly sleeps
In the noon sun


By Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,

the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,

the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,

maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show

that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,

speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,

the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees

and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and--somehow--the wine.
-Metaphor Prompt

Zen Flesh and Dog Bones

Shaun Wayman


Man is the only animal that can remain on friendly terms

with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them.

-Samuel Butler


The Buddha named dog as

one of the five forbidden

meats. Funny this thought

should occur at 4:32 a.m.

as my neighbor’s dog,

once more, rises as the

cock of the morn. Funnier yet,

like most forbidden things,

I imagine a near religious

experience. There, on

Nhat Tan Street in the

infamous Tây Hồ District, 

I kneel in a Hanoi stall. And

there the boiled dog simmers

in a black ceramic pot.

Mounted on a small hill

of tapioca noodles, dressed

in the heady reds of a

Goats Horn pepper and

green leaves of the

Thai basil, he rests in a

forever pose, baptized in

a pho consommé scented with

star anise, yellow rock sugar, and

num pla. I imagine,

also, the farmer: a Vietnamese

Gothic.  There, with his wife

in a rice field outside

Điện Biên Phủ, she smiles

coyly, a single Da Lat rose staged

over her left shoulder. He holds

a short handled sickle in

his right hand. Its silver blade

curves toward a litter of pups.

The lattice work of their hutch

elongates the portrait.  And in a

nearby riverbed, an incarnation

of boy Buddha gilded in crimson

from the Trần-Hồ dynasty rises from

the lotus flower, leash in hand,

and chants the sutra of

The Morning Dog, an

Indochinese Bodhisattva,

eager to bring life and vigor

to a sleeping world in a

bowl full of dog meat.  

My Mother’s Drunken Boyfriend Loved Me

Shaun Wayman

I am peeking my head through the flap of the teepee.

It is early summer in Santa Fe.  The patchy spring snows

of New Mexico have faded. An Australian shepherd

looks at me with a hazel and blue bandit’s mask. 

The camouflage of white and grey fur rambles about our

home. Chico circles the camp impatiently heading  

into the forest, turns, trots back.


The forest is calm and settled.  A slight crunch of stone ticks

under canine pads.  The membranous wings of the cicada,

these subterranean nymphs, chirr their distinct song. 


The banana yucca flowers: the aroma of its

white cream and purple marries with the mesquite and

cottonwood.  Paleface Hibiscus and desert lavender  

give way to the gentle char of a breakfast fire.   


I wander towards my mother’s blue corn fritters

splattering in grease nearby. She scoops them

from the bubbling oil and their uncanny resemblance

to the horned toad makes me laugh. I crunch through

the pine tar of the poblano and smokiness of the

chipotle to the earthy flesh of the corn,

staples of the New Mexican diet.


this small basin of the Chihuahan desert

this lost cousin of El Dorado

this clearing in an Agua Fria gorge

this paleface boy


And Robert holds me close, smiles,

the tequila never far, an agave cologne

I can still smell today



-Food Prompt

The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me

April 19, 1998|SHERMAN ALEXIE | 

I learned to read with a Superman comic book. Simple enough, I suppose. I cannot recall which particular Superman comic book I read, nor can I remember which villain he fought in that issue. I cannot remember the plot, nor the means by which I obtained the comic book. What I can remember is this: I was 3 years old, a Spokane Indian boy living with his family on the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington state. We were poor by most standards, but one of my parents usually managed to find some minimum-wage job or another, which made us middle-class by reservation standards. I had a brother and three sisters. We lived on a combination of irregular paychecks, hope, fear and government surplus food.

My father, who is one of the few Indians who went to Catholic school on purpose, was an avid reader of westerns, spy thrillers, murder mysteries, gangster epics, basketball player biographies and anything else he could find. He bought his books by the pound at Dutch's Pawn Shop, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Value Village. When he had extra money, he bought new novels at supermarkets, convenience stores and hospital gift shops. Our house was filled with books. They were stacked in crazy piles in the bathroom, bedrooms and living room. In a fit of unemployment-inspired creative energy, my father built a set of bookshelves and soon filled them with a radom assortment of books about the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Vietnam War and the entire 23-book series of the Apache westerns. My father loved books, and since I loved my father with an aching devotion, I decided to love books as well.

I can remember picking up my father's books before I could read. The words themselves were mostly foreign, but I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph. I didn't have the vocabulary to say "paragraph," but I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence. This knowledge delighted me. I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. Our reservation was a small paragraph within the United States. My family's house was a paragraph, distinct from the other paragraphs of the LeBrets to the north, the Fords to our south and the Tribal School to the west. Inside our house, each family member existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link us. Now, using this logic, I can see my changed family as an essay of seven paragraphs: mother, father, older brother, the deceased sister, my younger twin sisters and our adopted little brother.

At the same time I was seeing the world in paragraphs, I also picked up that Superman comic book. Each panel, complete with picture, dialogue and narrative was a three-dimensional paragraph. In one panel, Superman breaks through a door. His suit is red, blue and yellow. The brown door shatters into many pieces. I look at the narrative above the picture. I cannot read the words, but I assume it tells me that "Superman is breaking down the door." Aloud, I pretend to read the words and say, "Superman is breaking down the door." Words, dialogue, also float out of Superman's mouth. Because he is breaking down the door, I assume he says, "I am breaking down the door." Once again, I pretend to read the words and say aloud, "I am breaking down the door" In this way, I learned to read.

This might be an interesting story all by itself. A little Indian boy teaches himself to read at an early age and advances quickly. He reads "Grapes of Wrath" in kindergarten when other children are struggling through "Dick and Jane." If he'd been anything but an Indian boy living on the reservation, he might have been called a prodigy. But he is an Indian boy living on the reservation and is simply an oddity. He grows into a man who often speaks of his childhood in the third-person, as if it will somehow dull the pain and make him sound more modest about his talents.


A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non-Indians alike. I fought with my classmates on a daily basis. They wanted me to stay quiet when the non-Indian teacher asked for answers, for volunteers, for help. We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. Most lived up to those expectations inside the classroom but subverted them on the outside. They struggled with basic reading in school but could remember how to sing a few dozen powwow songs. They were monosyllabic in front of their non-Indian teachers but could tell complicated stories and jokes at the dinner table. They submissively ducked their heads when confronted by a non-Indian adult but would slug it out with the Indian bully who was 10 years older. As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world. Those who failed were ceremonially accepted by other Indians and appropriately pitied by non-Indians.

I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky. I read books late into the night, until I could barely keep my eyes open. I read books at recess, then during lunch, and in the few minutes left after I had finished my classroom assignments. I read books in the car when my family traveled to powwows or basketball games. In shopping malls, I ran to the bookstores and read bits and pieces of as many books as I could. I read the books my father brought home from the pawnshops and secondhand. I read the books I borrowed from the library. I read the backs of cereal boxes. I read the newspaper. I read the bulletins posted on the walls of the school, the clinic, the tribal offices, the post office. I read junk mail. I read auto-repair manuals. I read magazines. I read anything that had words and paragraphs. I read with equal parts joy and desperation. I loved those books, but I also knew that love had only one purpose. I was trying to save my life.

Despite all the books I read, I am still surprised I became a writer. I was going to be a pediatrician. These days, I write novels, short stories, and poems. I visit schools and teach creative writing to Indian kids. In all my years in the reservation school system, I was never taught how to write poetry, short stories or novels. I was certainly never taught that Indians wrote poetry, short stories and novels. Writing was something beyond Indians. I cannot recall a single time that a guest teacher visited the reservation. There must have been visiting teachers. Who were they? Where are they now? Do they exist? I visit the schools as often as possible. The Indian kids crowd the classroom. Many are writing their own poems, short stories and novels. They have read my books. They have read many other books. They look at me with bright eyes and arrogant wonder. They are trying to save their lives. Then there are the sullen and already defeated Indian kids who sit in the back rows and ignore me with theatrical precision. The pages of their notebooks are empty. They carry neither pencil nor pen. They stare out the window. They refuse and resist. "Books," I say to them. "Books," I say. I throw my weight against their locked doors. The door holds. I am smart. I am arrogant. I am lucky. I am trying to save our lives.

Mentor Text Prompt:

I learned to read with X. I cannot (can) recall X, nor can I remember X2.  What I can remember is this: X= how old + where you were + 3 concrete details. We were ….,(specific idea about your situation at the time) but …. (a contrast to the specific idea). We lived on a combination of x, y, z and something else.

Student Example Rebecca Vaive: First Words: Vaive Senior Final

How I Knew Harold*

Around 1981 we run into your old girlfriend on an elevator.

She’s wearing black leather pants and a tank top. She

asks how I like New York. We are all sweating bul-

lets. I want to say it sucks, but the doors open and

she’s gone. We miss our floor.

Around 1953 Mom tells the family she’s pregnant. My

brother bounces around the living room with a

pillow on his head wailing “it will change our whole

lives!” This story is recounted each year around my


Around 1978 I leave home to move in with Jack. Dad and I

are standing in the driveway. They don’t want me to

go. He’s Jewish. Mom packs ham sandwiches and

slips me two twenties. I move back in three months.

Around 1979 my friend Sandy plays taps at a funeral gig, so I

go along. I walk up to the casket in my boots and fur

jacket. I’m checking out the deceased when a woman

grabs my elbow. She wants to know how I knew


Around 1972 my sister tells me and my parents she’s gay. Dad

says it’s unnatural and they start arguing. I keep

quiet. Mom goes to the kitchen to make sundaes.

Around 1962 my brother feels like scaring the hell out of me

and chases me around the house with a butcher knife.

I hide behind Dad’s suits. It smells like Old Spice.

Around 1969 I tell my parents over dinner that I’d live with a

man before I’d marry him. Dad says it’s unnatural. I

tell him to get his own dessert.

Around 1963 Grandma gives me ten bucks for learning the

times tables.

Around 1957 Dad and I sing My Darlin’ Clementine every

morning on the way to school.

Around 1968 Patty Bryant and I run out on the check at


Around 1964 Mom colors her hair—starts wearing eye

shadow and mascara. She’s standing over a steaming

sink in a pale green mohair singing “Edelweiss.” She

looks absolutely radiant.

(*with thanks to Terence Winch)

~ Deborah Harding

Shards of Memory: Playing with Time

A Process for Recovering Fugitive Memories

  1. Jot down a list of some of the places where you have lived.

  2. Jot down a list of some of the jobs you’ve had. Include the weirder ones.

  3. Jot down a list of old friends, people you don’t see much of anymore.

  4. Jot down two embarrassing things you’ve done and a lie you once told.

  5. Jot down one triumph and two failures.

  6. Jot down a list of remembered kisses.

  7. Jot down the names of someone who hurt you, someone who helped you, and someone you admired.

  8. Describe a piece of clothing you once loved, name a piece of music you still love, and two old movies you still remember.

Poem A: Shards of Memory

Write a poem with the same structure as “How I Knew Harold.” Begin each line with the phrase “Around 19—“ or some variation on it. Plug in a few choice items from the above exercise, each of them sketched briefly with a few well-chosen details. Add other memories as they come to you. Jumble the chronology so that the memories don’t move in a clear progression but jump back and forth. Make sure that at least three of the items interconnect, if only tangentially. Organize the poem intuitively. Hold on to a chatty voice. Don’t get self-consciously eloquent or lyrical.

If your poem’s resemblance to the model bothers you, try deleting some of the dates and placing a few others in the middle or at the end of the item. You might leave out the dates completely. You may wish to number the stanza and call the piece something like “Fifteen Little Poems about My Life.”

Poem B: A List Poem

It might be “Those I’ve kissed,” or “People I’ve Hurt,” or “A Few of my Failures.” Keep each item spare, but vary them enough so that the poem never gets monotonous. End each item with a date if you wish but in the final draft you may wish to leave out dates altogether. You may wish to vary your lines more than Berrigan does.

Remember there is ultimately only one essential rule for writing: it must be interesting to read! Cross out anything that isn’t interesting to read and replace it with something that is!

~ From In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet’s Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit via Liz Spalding



The name of the author is the first to go 

followed obediently by the title, the plot, 

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel 

which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of, 
as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor 

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, 

to a little fishing village where there are no phones. 
Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye 

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag, 

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets, 
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps, 

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay. 

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember, 

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue 

or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen. 
It has floated away down a dark mythological river 

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall 

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those 

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle. 

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night 

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war. 

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted   

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Concept + thingness



This is the beginning. 

Almost anything can happen. 

This is where you find 

the creation of light, a fish wriggling onto land, 

the first word of Paradise Lost on an empty page. 

Think of an egg, the letter A

a woman ironing on a bare stage 

as the heavy curtain rises. 

This is the very beginning. 

The first-person narrator introduces himself, 

tells us about his lineage. 

The mezzo-soprano stands in the wings. 

Here the climbers are studying a map 

or pulling on their long woolen socks. 

This is early on, years before the Ark, dawn. 

The profile of an animal is being smeared 

on the wall of a cave, 

and you have not yet learned to crawl. 

This is the opening, the gambit, 

a pawn moving forward an inch. 

This is your first night with her, 

your first night without her. 

This is the first part 

where the wheels begin to turn, 

where the elevator begins its ascent, 

before the doors lurch apart. 

This is the middle. 

Things have had time to get complicated, 

messy, really. Nothing is simple anymore. 

Cities have sprouted up along the rivers 

teeming with people at cross-purposes— 

a million schemes, a million wild looks. 

Disappointment unshoulders his knapsack 

here and pitches his ragged tent. 

This is the sticky part where the plot congeals, 

where the action suddenly reverses 

or swerves off in an outrageous direction. 

Here the narrator devotes a long paragraph 

to why Miriam does not want Edward's child. 

Someone hides a letter under a pillow. 

Here the aria rises to a pitch, 

a song of betrayal, salted with revenge. 

And the climbing party is stuck on a ledge 

halfway up the mountain. 

This is the bridge, the painful modulation. 

This is the thick of things. 

So much is crowded into the middle— 

the guitars of Spain, piles of ripe avocados, 

Russian uniforms, noisy parties, 

lakeside kisses, arguments heard through a wall— 

too much to name, too much to think about. 
And this is the end, 

the car running out of road, 

the river losing its name in an ocean, 

the long nose of the photographed horse 

touching the white electronic line. 

This is the colophon, the last elephant in the parade, 

the empty wheelchair, 

and pigeons floating down in the evening. 

Here the stage is littered with bodies, 

the narrator leads the characters to their cells, 

and the climbers are in their graves. 

It is me hitting the period 

and you closing the book. 

It is Sylvia Plath in the kitchen 

and St. Clement with an anchor around his neck. 

This is the final bit 

thinning away to nothing. 

This is the end, according to Aristotle, 

what we have all been waiting for, 

what everything comes down to, 

the destination we cannot help imagining, 

a streak of light in the sky, 

a hat on a peg, and outside the cabin, falling leaves.

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