(taut jeans dancing)

An Anthology of Poetry about Being Young and Growing Up
Table Of Contents
Acknowledgments & Links


Katharyn Howd Machan

Walking down the street she finds her hands
jammed into pockets, blue jeans tight
across the hips she likes to move to music--
barefoot, hair down, silver tape recorder

blaring loud.  She's seventeen.  Her mother 
calls her Bluebell just to get a rise, goes off
to work the morning shift in almost white
shoes and cap and apron, while daughter

slouches over Cheerios, sips coffee, stares ahead
and thinks how much she hates the smell of books.
"Goodbye."  And once again "Goodbye" as now she
turns a corner stained with leaf tattoos

from early rain, pretends she doesn't care
that she is pregnant from a skinny man 
she slept with once, who'll never know, who 
thinks of her as something he once tasted,

might again.  She moves along, indifferent
to the aching bit of smoke from cigarette
she sucks.  She's seventeen.  All's  possible.  All isn't.
Today at school they'll see a stupid film.

      When we lose something important, and it is really gone, at first, we are likely to say that we don't care. But losing it makes a lot of ordinary things, like school, seem stupid. If such a thing has happened to you, write a poem about it.

      Write a poem about getting up, eating breakfast, going to school. What you're thinking about. What you're scared of. What you worry about. How you try to put these things out of your mind. What do you look forward to? How do you end the poem? What do you want to say about school? What do you want to say about your own life?


Kathleen Aguero

Who knows how it started?
We were the same age, but he was smaller
with wrists you could snap like green beans,
veins that showed blue runners through his skin.
His scalp was something dead beneath his crewcut
and I hated his pipsqueak voice,
his hanging around with us girls.

Then somehow he was face down on the pavement,
my fist banging his back.
When my girlfriends pulled me off, 
he whined like a toy engine:
I had hurt his sunburn,
I would pay if he went to the doctor.

He was an orphan I thought I should be nice to.
His aunt was sending him to military school.
I was ashamed but still sickened 
remembering his soft hands, his thin eyelashes,
the schoolgirl in him.

      Was there someone you were supposed to feel sorry for, someone who was weak, someone who cried or whined? Did you ever hurt someone who seemed weak? Did you ever want to hurt someone like that? Can you write a poem about what it was like?


Anonymous (Traditional, U.S.)

When I was single
My shoes they were new,
Now I am married,
The water runs right through.
Lord, wisht I was a single girl again.

When I was single
My dresses they were fine,
Now I am married,
Go ragged all the time.
Lord, wisht I was a single girl again.

Children in the cradle,
Sick and in bed,
Standing in the kitchen,
A-crying for bread.
Lord, wisht I was a single girl again.

Children in the cradle,
Sick and in bed,
My husband's off drinking
He's a-wishing I was dead.
Lord, wisht I was a single girl again.

If I could go back
Seven long years,
I'd push back my bonnet
And wipe away my tears.
Lord, wisht I was a single girl again.


Anonymous (English)

She was poor, but she was honest,   
Victim of the squire's whim:
First he loved her, then he left her,
 And she lost her honest name. 

Then she ran away to London,
For to hide her grief and shame;
There she met another squire,
And she lost her name again.

See her riding in her carriage,
In the Park and all so gay:
All the nibs and nobby persons
Come to pass the time of day.

See the little old-world village
Where her aged parents live,
Drinking the champagne she sends them;
But they never can forgive.

In the rich man's arms she flutters,
Like a bird with broken wing:
First he loved her, then he left her,
And she hasn't got a ring.

See him in the splendid mansion,
Entertaining with the best,
While the girl that he has ruined,
Entertains a sordid guest.

See him in the House of Commons,
Making laws to put down crime,
While the victim of his passions
Trails her way through mud and slime.

Standing on the bridge at midnight,
She says: 'Farewell, blighted Love.'
There's a scream, a splash-Good Heavens!
What is she a-doing of?

Then they drag her from the river,
Water from her clothes they wrang,
For they thought that she was drownded;
But the corpse got up and sang:

'It's the same the whole world over;
It's the poor that gets the blame,
It's the rich that get the pleasure.   
Isn't it a blooming shame?'


Ellen Bass

I had been waiting
waiting for what felt like lifetimes.
When the first girls stayed out of  the ocean
a few days a month, wore shorts instead of a swimsuit
I watched them enviously.
I even stayed out once in a while, pretending.

At last, finding blood on my panties
I carried them to my mother, hoping
unsure, afraid--Mom, is this it?

She gave me Kotex and belt
showed me how to wear it.
Dot Lutz was there, smiling, saying when her Bonnie
got her period, she told her
when you have questions, come to me, ask me.
You can ask a mother anything.

I felt so strange when she said that.
Mom didn't say anything.

The three of us
standing in the bedroom
me, the woman-child, standing with the older women
and the feeling
there once was a feeling 
that should be here,
there once was a rite, a communion.

I said, yes, I'll ask my mother
but we all, except maybe Dot,
knew it wasn't true.

      There are things we don't ask our parents. It's too personal; it would be too embarrassing. We would rather tell a friend, or even a stranger. It's not that they are bad things, though they may scare us, and we think they might be bad. It's just that there is no set way of telling them without it getting too personal, without revealing how much we don't understand, and without showing that we are afraid.
      Are you far enough away, now, from something you didn't tell your parents that you can write a poem about it with some understanding of why you felt and acted the way you did. Ellen Bass' poem, "First Menstruation" might help you get an idea.


Joyce Sutphen

I wanted a horse. This was long after
we sold the work horses, and I was feeling

restless on the farm. I got up early
to help my father milk the cows, talking

a blue streak about TV cowboys
he never had time to see and trying to

convince him that a horse wouldn't cost
so much and that I'd do all the work.

He listened while he leaned his head
against the flank of a Holstein, pulling

the last line of warm milk into
the stainless bucket. He kept listening

while the milk-machine pumped like an engine,
and the black and silver cups fell off and

dangled down, clanging like bells when he
stepped away, balancing the heavy milker

against the vacuum hose and the leather belt.
I knew he didn't want the trouble

of a horse, but I also knew there was nothing
else I wanted the way I wanted a horse—

another way of saying I wanted
to ride into the sunset and (maybe)

never come back—I think he knew that too.
We'll see, he said, we'll see what we can do.

Wanting things, wanting some things very badly is part of growing up. Wanting things only our parents can supply. We are likely to have only an inkling of what it might mean to them. Believing we really can take care of it ourselves. Looking back we can begin to understand what it means to them. Write your poem that shows understanding of both people.


Michelle Boisseau

It was Mrs. Garvin, the doctor's wife,
who told my mother, Well, if you're that broke,
put the kids up for adoption.
Out under the porch light that summer,
we slapped at mosquitoes and invented 
our brave escape--luminous sheets
knotted out the window
were the lines of a highway down the house.
We would know the way,
like ingenious animals, to go
quietly toward the river,
but we could imagine no further
than the shacks on stilts 
shivering the water,
the Kentucky hills on the other side.
Denise, the youngest, took to sleepwalking,
wading room to room for the place
one of us--curled up in a bed's corner--
might have left her.  I'd wake
to her face pressed against my back,
her hands reining the edges of my nightgown.
I didn't tuck her into my shoulder
but loosened her fingers and led her
back to her own bed, her fear
already seeping into me like water
or like the light spilling
from the milk truck
as it backfired down the street.

      Being young means time spent being afraid. When another kid is afraid, even a brother or a sister, we want to get away so their fear won't make us afraid too.
      Write a poem about not being able to give comfort to someone because you were afraid yourself.


Marsha Mathews

When I was ten
I sneaked a hypodermic needle
from my mother's nursing bag,
filled it with red food coloring.

I went out on the back porch,
got the mayonnaise jar,
unscrewed the lid, slowly,
so I could get my hand in
to grab the grasshopper.

I injected him.

His straw color turned
the color of a tangerine
and every bit as radiant.
I ached for something 
to inject myself with
to make me shine.

I took the grasshopper to the meadow
back behind the house,
and watched him hop away,
robbed of natural protection.

Same way lipstick and high heels 
later did me in.

      If we can "shine," we'll be attractive to others, be interesting to others, and our lives will become more interesting. Whether it is clothes, or lipstick, or high heels, or hair, or whatever it is you have used to get attention, write a poem about the longing and what happened with the loss of "natural protection."


Jadene Felina Stevens

                                                                                         Oh, Roger Jones!  Oh, Roger Jones!
                                                                                                           Oh, Prince! O, Knight!  Ah me!
                                                                                                  We used to play at keeping house,
                                                                                                            Beneath am old oak tree.
                                                                                                                       --Nathalia Crane 1924

The day you asked me if I wanted to play marbles
in your yard
(a game for “keepsies,” you said)
I had just returned from a party,
wore a Swiss dot dress my mother had sewn by hand,
cut from a pair of old curtains.
You dug a cup-sized hole in the ground,
we drew a circle around it,
picked pebbles from the dust.
We each had a bag of marbles,
loosened draw-strings,
started to roll.
Some days you’re on,
some days not.
Kneeling in the hot sun, knuckling down,
knocking one aggie after another into the hole,
until you only had your lucky red shooter left;
an off-round, cranberry red cat’s-eye
which looked magical gleaming in the palm  of your hand—
when it was over
I pulled the draw-strings tight,
the denim bag bulging.
“Hey! Give ‘em back!” you said,
your words  heavy and precise.
“I will not!”  (I drew the strings tighter.)
“It wasn’t for ‘keepsies!’  It was ‘funsies!’  Give ‘em back!”
You yelled, your face red, eyes full
of the sting of tears.
“Give ‘em back, or get out of my yard!”  your voice low now,
hatred rising from a cup-sized hole.
I left, your words filling the afternoon air behind me—
“Don’t come back…EVER!”

I suppose here, I should show some compassion,
say I gave back his marbles,
or at least his Christmas-red shooter,
but I didn’t—
knowing he wouldn’t have given mine
back to me.
Feeling good in a clean win, 
fair game,
I tossed those marbles all over my bed that night,
set the red cat’s-eye carefully on the sill.

       When to be kind? When to be fair. When to give up part of yourself for others. When to cherish yourself and what is rightfully yours.
Everyone has to make these choices, but it seems that women have to make them more often. Write poem about a time you made such a choice, no matter which way it came out. Notice that Jadine Felina Stevens make no judgments, simply tells honestly what happened and only implies what her feelings were.



Adelaide Crapsey

                                                       "Why do
                                                        You thus devise
                                                        Evil against her?"  "For that
                                                        She is beautiful, delicate;

The reference is to the story of Susanna in the thirteenth book of Daniel in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles.


Rita Dove

With  Dad gone, Mom and I worked 
The dusky rows of tomatoes.
As they glowed orange in sunlight
And rotted in shadow,  I too
Grew orange and softer, swelling out
Starched cotton slips.

The texture of twilight made me think of
Lengths of Dotted Swiss.  In my room
I wrapped scarred knees in dresses
That once went to big-band dances;
I baptized my earlobes with rosewater.
Along the window-sill, the lipstick stubs
Glittered in their steel shells.

Looking out at the rows of clay
And chicken manure, I dreamed how it would happen:
He would meet me by the blue spruce,
A carnation over his heart, saying,
"I have come for you, Madam;
I have loved you in my dreams."
At his touch, the scabs would fall away.
Over his shoulder, I see my father coming toward us:
He carries his tears in a bowl,
And blood hangs in the pine-soaked air.


Nikki Giovanni

childhood remembrances are always a drag
if  you're Black
you always remember things like living in Woodlawn
with no inside toilet
and if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have your mother      
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in
and somehow when you talk about home
it never gets across how much you
understood their feelings
as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale
and even though you remember
your biographers never understand
your father's pain as he sells his stock
and another dream goes
and though you're poor it isn't poverty that
concerns you
and though they fought a lot
it isn't your father's drinking that makes any difference
but only that everybody is together and you
and your sister have happy birthdays and very good christmasses
and I really hope no white person ever has cause to write about me
because they never understand Black love is Black wealth and they'll
probably talk about my hard childhood and never understand that
all the while I was quite happy

       What will your biographer get wrong about your childhood? Put it in a poem. Can someone else write about you and get it right?


Corrine Hales

On the way to church, we'd pass the place
The neighbor boy's body had been
Found a few days after his father
Beat in his brown-haired head
With a quart-sized root beer bottle.
The first day we made ourselves go straight
To the spot--some broken glass,
A bare space in the field, the dirt turned
A little, as if someone had thought 
Of a garden and given it up.  Nothing else.
After that we began to swerve,
Making a new path through thick summer
Weeds.  Inside scrubbed church walls,

The world looked different.  Soft-edged
Women sat, fanning themselves slowly
With pastel cardboard fans, moving only 
Their slender wrists, staring out
Into the blue air.  Babies slept easily
In their laps, safe, believing in good mothers
Who would catch them if they rolled
And hold them if they cried.  One by one
People stood, moved to testify
To their faith in a merciful Jesus.  Turning
Faces toward the smooth white ceiling,
They'd give thanks and plead for their lives.

At seventeen, I had already learned 
What a man could do to me
If he chose to.  Each new time
He climbed on top of me, I was trusting him
With my life.  He would hold my wrist
Between his thumb and finger, saying:
I could snap this in a second, or your arm,
Or your neck.  And I knew the rancid taste
Of gratitude when he let me live.

That may be why, on a hot August morning
When I saw my own first baby,
I was overcome by the uneasy revelation
That giving birth is not giving life--
Birth had been mostly out of my control.
But those tiny wrists, her fingers,
Her delicate wobbly head, told me clearly
That she was at my mercy.  I'd have to decide
Again every day to let her live.

When the woman on the fifteenth floor began
Throwing her children out of the window
One by one, the citizens of Salt Lake City
Were powerless to stop her.  We ran back and forth
In the streets below, begging her
To have mercy on the children.  We would have
Given her anything--money, our houses and cars, even love,
To save one of those falling bodies.  And we would fall
Happily to our own knees in the ripe gratitude

Of an errant child whose punishment, on a whim,
Has been miraculously rescinded.  But mercy,
After all, is just another word
For power, and on that clean city sidewalk,
As we covered up what was left, we began to understand
Our position.  She was closer to her ancient god
Than any of us could imagine, and she had accepted
The terrible responsibility that comes with being
Above other people.

      Noticing the delicate helplessness of a baby is only one of the ways we can be reminded that we can be at the mercy of others just as they can be at our mercy.
      Children and young people do die violently. Only if we have seen it and have overcome our shock and our sentimentality but not our compassion can we write about it with conviction. And, even then, we are likely to slip into writing clichés (words and, especially, phrases which we have gotten from someone else).
      The language of a poem has to be our own, or the poem is not valid. Most single words are OK, unless it is a word that is popular. But a phrase that you have heard before is a phrase that can't be yours; it already belongs to somebody else. The reader will associate it with someone else. George Orwell make a simple rule of it: never use a phrase you've heard or seen in the media.


Corrine Hales

I.  Underground

In those days, the world
Was going to end.  Our favorite playhouse
Was nothing but a big hole
Dug in an empty field, covered
With old boards, piled high with dirt.
On summer days, we'd crawl
Underground with candies and chocolate,
Pretend the bombs had come
And we were safe.

Sitting in near-dark, we played
Cards, talked, smoked stolen cigarettes
And giggled when above-ground footsteps--
Somebody running--sent
Dirt sifting down into our hair. 

II. War Stories The truth is, I was ashamed That my father hadn't fought In the war. I made up stories To account for the paralyzed left side That had kept him safe. He'd been A paratrooper, shot right out of the air Over Germany, I said. The Germans Dug their filthy shrapnel Out of him with his own knife While he was fully conscious, And they kept him alive only because It was so close to the end Of the war. And there were other stories. When a fifth grade teacher made us stand And tell what our fathers did For a living, I said I had no father. I told them mine had been A fighter pilot, killed Like a schoolmate's father, in Korea. I don't know how I said those things-- Except that my father couldn't keep a job. He wouldn't go to church, and war Was the only acceptable Excuse for the way we were living.

III. In the Event of a National Emergency Would you rather have your child Sent home or remain at school? Every year My mother agonized at the choice. We tried it Both ways: If we were targeted We'd have thirty minutes, someone figured, Lead-time before the flash. They sent us Running at the noon whistle, out of doors, Down the streets, racing the clock, running Home--safe-all the way Into the innermost room of the house. I made it With time to spare, but my father refused To cooperate. He wouldn't let my mother Fill in the form that recorded My time. He said when the time came None of this would matter. At school along with spelling And times tables, we were drilled In emergency procedures: Pulling the blinds, Ducking under our desks, or marching down Into the school's damp, windowless cellar Where we were shown the radio, Black bottles of water, blankets, Batteries, canned food. When we asked What about the bathrooms, the answer was always The same: Don't worry. When the time comes, we'll get by.

IV. Resurrection When the time comes, the righteous Have nothing to fear. Our mortal bodies Will be restored to their most perfect State in the resurrection. If only I could convince my father To come into the church, to give up His bad habits, to pay His tithing--to live By the commandments of the Lord-- We would all be saved. I used to imagine Him young, before the sickness Crippled his body and left him Used and bitter like some forsaken Lover. I could never understand His resistance. I imagined disappearing scars, Perfect eyesight, lost teeth popping back Into place. My mother said it wasn't meant So literal. But hadn't I seen Her own body raised up By the power of the Lord? After the last Childbirth, the elders came to her sickbed, Anointed her with sacred oil, and laid Their hands on her body In prayer. "You are needed here, Sister," They said, and she got well.

V. Saturdays They showed the same movie Over and over. You could walk into the middle, Sit through the end, the beginning, To the middle again. It didn't matter That the plot had been carefully Structured. In spite of the posters Urging us to See It From the Beginning, no one ever bothered To find out the schedules. If you wanted, For the price of one ticket, you could see A movie three, maybe four times In a row, never leaving your seat, until It was as dark outside as inside.

VI Too Much Light One morning we were shown Those famous photos of the negative Imprints on Japanese Walls--to make us aware Of the dangers of the flash. It was like flying too close To the sun, they said. I remember My father telling me: If you live Through the lightening, kid, You've nothing to fear From the thunder. I remember burning Ants by the hundreds on the playground, Holding a magnifying lens Over the entrance to the biggest Anthill we could find. One by one As they crawled out Into the light, if we had focused Just right, those red ants would smoke, Shrivel and be still. The photographer told us not to look Directly into he flash. I'd forgotten To wear the prescribed dark Colored blouse and the teacher sighed, Said my face would probably disappear Anyway, I was so pale. She insisted I wear my glasses, lined us up According to size. On the front row, Because I was so angry, I stared straight Into the huge bulb until it flashed, A quick knife in my head, Leaving me sick and confused. In this School picture, I am fading, very small, Very white, and I have no eyes.

VII. Aftershock Because we lived near the tracks We were used to trains Shaking up our house, so the earthquake Itself didn't frighten us much. We woke To rattling dishes, windows, and a pot sliding Off the stove, crashing to the floor. Later that day the aftershock Hit while some of us were outside playing Baseball in the schoolyard. When the hard ground suddenly shifted Under my feet, I started running, Floating on waves of earth, back Toward the building, trying to get in. But there were other children rushing out The doors, coming toward me, and through His red megaphone, the principal Shouted for everyone to remain Outside, a safe distance from the school. It made no sense. I wanted only to be surrounded By floors and walls, and to get away From that terrible, unstable ground.

VII. Faith The first thing was, the boy Had to stay inside. His parents Kept the drapes drawn, and the one time I visited, his room was dim, air Rose-colored, and everyone was praying In whispers. When he got thinner They took him away and the congregation Was asked to fast one day A week to make him well. Four Sundays In a row we went without meals And knelt, eyes closed, as elders pleaded With the Lord to save this boy. I'm still not sure when the prayers began To change, but one Sunday evening, Stomach growling, I looked up During prayer meeting and heard The bishop asking God to relieve this boy's Pain and suffering. I understood We were praying for him to die. And when he died, we thanked the Lord For his everlasting mercy.

IX. Annie's House In the other room, I'd dance To the radio with Annie's kids While she carried on Business in her bedroom. She paid me Those afternoons by the hour To keep her children Happy and out of the way. I'd watch Her getting beautiful, humming, Brushing her black hair, changing Her clothes. She'd pull the blinds And remove the children's toys From the bedroom. Sometimes I'd hear Voices--they said yes, and please, And they said it felt good. My mother said If you were paid for it, you had to pretend It felt good. Annie told me Because she was on welfare, we had to Be careful. It would be all over If the caseworker came by. Whenever There was a knock at the door, I'd grab The kids quick, pull them down Beneath the kitchen table Where we'd crouch, quiet as death, Until the knocking stopped And we heard footsteps, a car door Slam shut, and the driving away.

X. Night Vision My sister and I lied to our parents So we could spend the night In our underground house. We said We were sleeping outside With someone else. After dark We sneaked blankets and flashlights Out to the field and crept down Into our private place. That night, because we were alone, We took off our clothes and began Learning to touch Our own bodies and each other For comfort. We swore, no matter what, We'd stay until morning, but sometime In the night a train roared by And the walls began to crumble. We closed our eyes and held on tight To each other, knowing Any second the roof might come crashing Down on us. After it passed, We crawled out one at a time, shivering Into the cool moonlight, and all We could see was ourselves Standing there naked, and alive.

      There are many possibilities for poems here: caves, tree houses, secret hiding places; having to tell about parents or other family matters in school; worrying about parents and wanting them to change. Choose one of these or another idea that was suggested to you by the poem and write your own poem.


Mahmood Jamal

Women weep, sisters and mothers weep
knowing what partings mean
knowing the meaning of playing a part
knowing the truth
of distances, dreams and men.

Momentarily, mother becomes bride
in the midst of perfume and flower
her first look at the past
her first look at the future.
The women wail
the mother embraces her child
tears soaking into each others’ shoulders.

No man can comprehend
No man can cast asunder
that bond of partings and tears
that unites them
our sisters, our mothers.

Write a poem about a wedding, maybe from your point of view; maybe from the point of view of a father or a mother.


Esther Johnson

If it be true, celestial Powers,
    That you have formed me fair,
And yet in all my vainest hours

    My mind has been my care;
Then in return I beg this grace,
    As you were ever kind:
What envious Time takes from my face,
     Bestow upon  my mind.


Jackie Kay

On my bedroom wall is a big poster
of Angela Davis who is in prison
right now for nothing at all
except she wouldn't put up with stuff.
My mum says she is only  26
which seems really old to me
but my mum says it is young
just imagine, she says, being on
America's Ten Most Wanted People's List at 26!
I can't.
Angela Davis is the only female person
I've seen (except for a nurse on TV)
who looks like me.  She has big hair like mine
that grows out instead of down.
My mum says it's called an Afro.
If I could be as brave as her when I get older
I'll be OK.
Last night I kissed her goodnight again
and wondered if she could feel the kisses
in prison all the way from Scotland.
Her skin is the same too you know.
I can see my skin is that colour
but most of the time I forget
so sometimes when I look in the mirror
I give myself a bit of a shock
and say to myself Do you really look like this?
as if I'm somebody else.  I wonder if she does that.
I don't believe she killed anybody.
It is all a load of phoney lies.
My dad says it's a set up.
I asked him if she'll get the electric chair
like them Roseberries° he was telling me about.
No he says the world is on her side.
Well how come she's in there then I thinks
I worry she's going to get the chair.
I worry she's worrying about the chair.
My dad says she'll be putting on a brave face.
He brought me a badge home which I wore
to school.  It says FREE ANGELA DAVIS
And all my pals says 'Who's she?'

°Roseberries:  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were 
convicted in the US of spying for the Soviet Union 
and executed.

Jackie Kay, Darling: New and Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books,2007)

      Write a poem about having sympathetic feelings for someone who was in trouble for being right (or, at least, you thought she, or he, was right).

from I AM HERE
for Naomi, later

Robert Mezey

She opens her eyes under water.  The sun climbs.
She runs, she decapitates flowers.
The grass sparkles.  Her little brother laughs.
She serves meals to friends no one has seen.
She races her tricycle in circles.
I come home.  The sun falls.

      Start with "The sun climbs," and end with "The sun falls." In between, tell the things a small child does during the day and the relevant things other people do around her.


Gareth Owen

My sister Betty said,
'I'm going to be a famous actress,'
Last year she was going to be a missionary.
'Famous actresses always look unhappy but beautiful,'
She said, pulling her mouth sideways
And making her eyes turn upwards
So they were mostly white.
'Do I look unhappy but beautiful?'
'I want to go to bed and read,' I said.
'Famous actresses suffer and have hysterics,' she said.
'I've been practising my hysterics.'
She began going very red and screaming
So that it hurt my ears.
She hit herself on the head with her fists
And rolled off my bed onto the lino.
I stood by the wardrobe where it was safer.
She got up saying, 'Thank you, thank you,'
And bowed to the four corners of my bedroom.
'Would you like an encore of hysterics?' she said,
'No,' I said from inside the wardrobe.
There was fluff all over her vest.
'If you don't clap enthusiastically,' she said,
'I'll put your light out when you're reading.'
While I clapped a bit
She bowed and shouted, 'More, more!'
Auntie Gwladys shouted upstairs,
'Go to bed and stop teasing Betty.'
'The best thing about being a famous actress,' Betty said,
'Is that you get to die a lot.'
She fell to the floor with a crash
And lay there for an hour and a half
With her eyes staring at the ceiling.
She only went away when I said,
'You really look like a famous actress
Who's unhappy but beautiful.'

When I got into bed and started reading,
She came and switched off my light.
It's not much fun 
Having a famous actress for a sister. 

      Do you have a brother or a sister or a friend who drives you crazy? Can you put her, or him, in a poem that shows all the craziness and also shows that you love her, or him?


Mark Sanders

Papa came in this morning
angry at the winter.
He had been with one of his calving cows
most of the night,
had to drive her to the barn through snow to his knees,
and the calf's hind legs coming first,
the wet of birth freezing fast.
Mama in the barn held the lantern for Papa
as he worked.
I held the cow's head to calm and steady her.
But Papa could not pull the calf himself,
it was lodged so.
Then the cow fell to her knees,
rolled over to her side,
her great belly heaving and heavy with her death.
Mama, feeding little Tina who slept through it,
said Papa would not drink his coffee,
eat his breakfast,
but went out early to chore.
Then he came back in, angry at the winter.
Said over and over he wishes he'd had a son
to help him pull,
needed more muscle to do what last night
had to be done.
Over and over said he was angry at the winter.

      Sometimes kids get blamed for not being what their parents need or want. The most well-meaning parents will do it. They probably don't notice that it hurts, because they are too tied up in what it is they need. Write a poem about a time it happened to you. Don't philosophize or generalize or make judgments, just, as Mark Sanders does, coolly tell what happened.

for Emma

Carole Satyamurti

Twelve, small as six,
strength, movement, hearing
all given in half measure,
my daughter, 
child of genetic carelessness,
walks uphill, always.

I watch her morning face;
precocious patience as she hooks each sock,
creeps it up her foot, 
aims her jersey like a quoit.
My fingers twitch;
her private frown deters.

Her jokes can sting:
'My life is like dressed crab
--lot of effort, rather little meat.'
Yet she delights in seedlings taking root,
finding a fossil,
a surprise dessert.

Chopin will not yield to her stiff touch;
I hear her cursing.
She paces Bach exactly,
firm rounding of perfect cadences.
Somewhere inside 
she is dancing a courante.

In dreams she skims the sand,
curls toes into the ooze of pools,
leaps on to stanchions.
Awake, her cousins take her hands;
they lean into the waves
stick-child between curved sturdiness.

She turns away from stares, 
laughs at the boy who asks 
if she will find a midget husband.
Ten years ago, cradling her,
I showed her the slice of silver in the sky.
'Moon broken,' she said.

      It is very hard to write about courage. Probably we have no right to talk about people who are brave; anybody can talk; only a few can be brave. Maybe the only thing we can do is to tell the brave things they do, but even that is hard because you have to tell it very simply and keep yourself out of it. If you have seen a child or a young person do brave things, try to tell about them in a poem.


Peggy Shumaker

Before you left for the Lucky Strike
I ironed your outfit--straight black
indestructible skirt, low-cut ruffles
on the K-Mart blouse.  I hated

the chore as you must have the job--
toting beer to the leagues, Al Ball's
Chevron, Addressograph-Multigraph.
Once, I made you late.  You came

when I called, and held me,
fought for me against some pure
and adolescent pain. Most nights
we couldn't afford it.

You'd bring home the best 
of a bad lot to dance till they fell,
the crashing bodies payment
against some larger debt.

I'd yell, then cry most school nights
till exhaustion tucked you in.
But one night my anger rose past
double-edged blades in the back bathroom,

and I uncapped the little white tube
free from the Avon Lady, Furious Passion,
my color, not yours, and wrote in virgin lipstick
three words on the mirror, then opened the window

and left.   You held your lipstick smack
against your mouth, one wide pull
in each direction.  You'd smear your lips
against each other, then kiss
a square of toilet paper, leaving always
surprised, a mouth.  Under the oleanders
behind the public pool I waited
for you to miss me.  I knew you would yell

I know you can hear me  just like you used to
when I was little and you said stay
within hollering distance or else, and you did
yell I know you can

hear me,  but I heard in your voice how much
you did not know.  When you left, desperate,
to wake up my friends, I walked home up the arroyo,
sure the punishment would be swift.

      Write about defying a parent. How it hurt the parent. How you were willing to accept the punishment. How it didn't stay simple, and what the complications were.


Muriel Stuart

'I thought you loved me.'  'No, it was only fun.'
'When we stood there, closer than all?'  'Well the harvest moon
Was shining and queer in your hair, and it turned my head.'
'That made you?'  'Yes.'  'Just the moon and the light it made
Under the tree?'  'Well, your mouth, too.'  'Yes, my mouth?'
'And the quiet there that sang like the drum in the booth.
You shouldn't have danced like that.'  'Like what?'  'So close,
With your head turned up, and the flower in your hair, a rose
That smelt all warm.'  'I loved you.  I thought you knew
I wouldn't have danced like that with any but you.'
'I didn't know.  I thought you knew it was fun.'
'I thought it was love you meant.'  'Well, it's done.'  'Yes it's done.
I've seen boys stone a blackbird, and watched them drown
A clawed at the reeds, and they pushed it down
Into the pool while it screamed.  Is that fun, too?'
'Well, boys are like that...Your brothers...'  'Yes, I know.
But you, so lovely and strong!  Not you!  Not you!'
'They don't understand it's cruel.  It's only a game.'
'And are girls fun too?' 'No, still in a way it's the same.
It's queer and lovely to have a girl...'  'Go on.'
'It makes you mad for a bit to feel she's your own,
And you laugh and kiss her, and maybe you give her a ring.
But it's only in fun.'  'But I gave you everything.'
'Well, you shouldn't have done it.  You know what a fellow thinks
When a girl does that.'  'Yes, he talks of her over his drinks
And calls her a--'  'Stop that now.  I thought you knew.'
'But it wasn't with anyone else.  It was only you.'
'How did I know?  I thought you wanted it too.
I thought you were like the rest.  Well, what's to be done?'
'To be done?'  "Is it all right?'  'Yes.'  'Sure?'  'Yes, but why?'
'I don't know.  I thought you were going to cry.
You said you had something to tell me.'  'Yes, I know.
It wasn't anything really...I think I'll go.'
'Yes, it's late.  There's thunder about, a drop of rain
Fell on my hand in the dark.  I'll see you again
At the dance next week.  You're sure everything's right?'
'Yes.'  'Well, I'll be going.' 'Kiss me...'  'Good night.'     'Good

      Write a poem, all in dialog, between a boy and a girl, one of whom is trying to escape and one who has been hurt.


Barbara Drake

Mother said, "Don't do it.
Once you do it
you have to go on doing it."
What kind of curse is that, 
I wondered.
Hair will always grow back.
You will not have to go on the street
to keep yourself in razor blades.
Surely there is nothing final
about the loss of armpit hair virginity.

So I waited till one day
when mother was gone,
then made a hasty retreat to the tub.
Awash in gardenia bubble bath
and pine scented bath oil,
I lathered,
dried and powdered
my armpits and legs, 
wiped the prickly evidence off the porcelain,
put on a flowered nightie
and took my smooth little self to bed
with a book-of-the-month-club selection to read.

When mother came home,
came in to say good night,
I remarked (casually),
"Look what I did,"
and threw back the covers to show her,
fait accompli, my sleek legs.
I hadn't noticed the many cuts
which now had bled and dried to the sheets.
It looked like a suicide attempt,
death by superficial laceration of the shins.

Mother looked peculiar and left the room.
Oh God, I thought,
now I have to
keep doing it.

      Write a poem about something you did after your mother, or father, had warned you not to.


William Carlos Williams

was very kind.  When she regained
her wits, he said, It's all right, Kid,
I took care of you.

What a mess she was in.  Then he added,
you'll never forget me now.
And drove her home.

Only a man who is sick, she said
would do a thing like that.
It must be so.

No one who is not diseased could be
so insanely cruel.  He wants to give it
to someone else--

to justify himself.  But if I get a
venereal infection out of this
I won't be treated.

I refuse.  You'll find me dead in bed
first.  Why not?  That's
the way she spoke,

I wish I could shoot him.  How would
you like to know a murderer?
I may do it.

I'll know by the end of this week.
I wouldn't scream.  I bit him
 several times

but he was too strong for me.
I can't yet understand it.  I don't 
faint so easily.

When I came to myself and realized
what had happened all I could do
was to curse

and call him every vile name I could
think of.  I was so glad 
to be taken home.

I suppose it's my mind--the fear of
infection.  I'd rather a million times
have been got pregnant.

But it's the foulness of it can't
be cured.  And hatred, hatred of all men
--and disgust.


Anne Sexton

Somebody who should have been born
is gone

Just as the earth puckered its mouth,
each bud puffing out from its knot,
I changed my shoes, and then drove south.

Up past the Blue Mountains, where
Pennsylvania humps on endlessly,
wearing, like a crayoned cat, its green hair,

its roads sunken in like a gray washboard;
where, in truth, the ground cracks evilly,
a dark socket from which the coal has poured,

Somebody who should have been born 
is gone

the grass as bristly and stout as chives,
and me wondering when the ground would break,
and me wondering how anything fragile survives;

up in Pennsylvania, I met a little man,
not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all . . .
he took the fullness that love began.

Returning north, even the sky grew thin
like a high window looking nowhere.
The road was as flat as a sheet of tin.

Somebody who should have been born
is gone

Yes, woman, such logic will lead
to loss without death.  Or say what you meant,
you coward . . . this baby that I bleed.


Traditional Irish

I know where I'm going, 
And I know who's going with me;   
I know who I love--
But the dear knows who I'll marry.

Feather beds are soft,
And painted rooms are bonny,
But I'll forsake them all
To go with my love Johnny;

Leave my dresses of silk,
My shoes of bright green leather,
Combs to buckle my hair,
And rings for every finger.

O some say he's black,
But I say he's bonny--
The fairest of them all,
My winsome handsome Johnny.

I know where I'm going, 
And I know who's going with me;
I know who I love--
But the dear knows who I'll marry.

The same subject, but ending on a different note.


Sir Walter Scott

"Why weep ye by the tide ladie?
	Why weep ye by the tide?
I'll wed ye to my youngest son,
	And ye sall be his bride:
And ye sall be his bride, ladie,
	Sae comely to be seen"--
But aye she loot the tears down fa'
	For Jock of Hazeldean.

"Now let this wilfu' grief be done,
	And dry that cheek so pale;
Young Frank is chief of Errington
	And lord of Langley-dale;
His step is first in peaceful ha',
	His sword in battle keen"--
But aye she loot the tears down fa'
	For Jock of Hazeldean.

"A chain of gold ye sall not lack,
	Nor braid to bind your hair;
Nor mettled hound, nor managed hawk,
	Nor palfrey fresh and fair;
And you, the foremost o' them a',
	Shall ride our forest queen."--
But aye she loot the tears down fa'
	For Jock of Hazeldean.

The kirk was decked at morning-tide,
	The tapers glimmered fair;
The priest and bridegroom wait the bride,
	And dame and knight are there.
They sought her baith by bower and ha';
	The laide was not seen!
She's o'er the Border and awa'
	Wi' Jock of Hazeldean.


William Shakespeare

(From "Much Ado about Nothing")

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh nor more;
    Men were deceivers ever;
One foot in sea and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never;
        Then sigh not so,
        But let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny;
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into. Hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no mo,
    Or dumps so dull and heavy;
The fraud of men was ever so,
    Since summer first was leavy.
        Then sigh not so, 
        But let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into Hey, nonny, nonny.

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