What’s in a line of poetry?

What is a line of poetry?

The drink is determined by the drinker.

A great line of poetry is like a shot of whiskey.

A poem is like a horse race. The horses are beautiful, strong, and fast, and they make the circuit in a few minutes. The race is over quickly, but everything leads up to it. Families mass. The whole ceremony which surrounds the race is delicious and slow. The horses were once colts. On the big day, there are many flowers. The poem is a beautiful blur of beauty. The crowd leans in during those exciting moments to hear what beauty has to say.

We scan the crowd, and if we should see a beautiful face, a very, very rare one, we marvel at how it has the same features as the world, but is beautiful in the extreme, and for obvious reasons that we are yet unable to comprehend, having to do with what we see of minute proportions of common objects: nose, eye, chin; and the way the elegant body carries the head, the hair that falls over the face, a small smile—these bring joy, but it is the sight of a face’s beautiful triumph in micro-inches that expands our chest in sighs, causes us to stop in the shadow of ourselves where a beam of sun in our eye has strayed.

The vast park is silent. The crowd has passed through large boulevards—or small roads that look like any quaint suburb of any large city in the world, with spring-thickened trees, the small shops with freshly painted signs. The millions have hushed themselves to hear the first poet in the 2016 March Madness Tournament utter their treasured line:

Donald Hall, author of hundreds of books on many subjects; old, regal, bearded—we once discussed Whitman with him in a bar in Iowa City—has loved and married Jane Kenyon, has watched Jane Kenyon die—Donald Hall, poet of lyrics and laments and epics and songs, anthologist, populist, pronounces with syllables solemn and slow:

To grow old is to lose everything.

Around the park, no sound.

The tournament has begun.

Now, Jennifer Moxley, respectfully and slow, moves to the podium. All eyes are on her, noting what she is wearing, a black dress—with gold designs tastefully embroidered into the fabric—her skin pale in the bright sunshine blasting the day:

How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.

The guests shift slightly in their seats as the line descends into their souls.

Donald Hall smiles.

Jennifer Moxley is motionless in the sun.

And the winner is…






  1. Surazeus said,

    March 14, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Donald Hall expresses an obvious fact, that we lose all when we grow old.

    Jennifer Moxley oscillates between hope and despair when she celebrates not being dead yet, but laments the suffering of illness, aching to finally go.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 14, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Good observation. We may have an upset in the making…

  2. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 14, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    “Hearing what beauty has to say…”, a poetic Churchill Downs…how beautifully you set the scene; one can see this is going to be no ordinary tournament…

  3. noochinator said,

    March 15, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Jennifer “Moxie” Moxley is a strong player — if she can’t beat Donald “Kidsinthe” Hall, no one can!

    Dividend of the Social Opt Out

    How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.
    Not seriously ill, just a little under the weather.
    To feel slightly peaked, indisposed. Plagued by
    a vague ache, or a slight inexplicable chill.

    Perhaps such pleasures are denied
    to those who never feel obliged. If there are such.

    How pleasant to convey your regrets. To feel sincerely
    sorry, but secretly pleased to send them on their way
    without you. To entrust your good wishes to others.
    To spare the equivocal its inevitable rise.

    How nice not to hope that something will happen,
    but to lie on the couch with a book, hoping that
    nothing will. To hear the wood creak and to think.
    It is lovely to stay without wanting to leave.

    How delicious not to care how you look,
    clean and uncombed in the sheets. To sip
    brisk mineral water, to take small bites
    off crisp Saltines. To leave some on the plate.

    To fear no repercussions. Nor dodge
    the unkind person you bug.

    Even the caretaker has gone to the party.
    If you want something you will have to
    get it yourself. The blue of the room seduces.
    The cars of the occupied sound the wet road.

    You indulge in a moment of sadness, make
    a frown at the notion you won’t be missed.
    This is what it is. You have opted to be
    forgotten so that your thoughts might live.

    Jennifer Moxley

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      March 15, 2016 at 5:07 pm

      Very glad to see the whole poem. Lovely to read. Brought back all those feelings of missing school and gingerale and little pear salads and friends coming in with missed homework and the moment gone.

  4. maryangeladouglas said,

    March 31, 2016 at 9:46 pm


    I don’t want to wind up in the classrooms
    hated by the children who have me for homework.
    let me be puffy clouds rejected by the little magazines

    as sappy as all get out like greeting cards used to be
    slap some glitter on me, I won’t mind
    a big pastel smile.

    runaway candy on a spree (from the candystores).
    with adjectives galore. and quotes to go with:
    “strew on {me} roses, roses…”

    I’ll be free while you’re at the workshops sweating it out
    when other people watch you get up to read
    their blunt scissors sharpened.

    watch me somersault away
    and it’s a Spring day

    and I don’t have any work at all
    to go back to. I’m stardust out of the jar;
    no readings for NPR.

    mary angela douglas 31 march 2016

  5. noochinator said,

    April 1, 2016 at 9:41 am

    “I’m stardust out of the jar;/ no readings for NPR.” Great! Reminds me of a Tennessee Williams poem (memorably set to music by Paul Bowles):

    Sugar in the Cane

    I’m red pepper in a shaker,
    Bread that’s waitin’ for the baker.
    I’m sweet sugar in the cane,
    Never touched except by rain.
    If you touched me God save you,
    These summer days are hot and blue.

    I’m potatoes not yet mashed,
    I’m a check that ain’t been cashed.
    I’m a window with a blind,
    Can’t see what goes on behind.
    If you did, God save your soul!
    These winter nights are blue and cold!

    Tennessee Williams

    • maryangeladouglas said,

      April 6, 2016 at 1:13 am

      That’s a great poem. I didn’t know he wrote poetry except I did like the poem in Night of the Iguana. Have to find that song. Definitely ready made song, ready to wear and easy to put music to. Thanks for posting.

  6. maryangeladouglas said,

    April 6, 2016 at 1:14 am


    people like prizes, something in gold.
    ocean blue ribbons.
    I don’t know why people like prizes.

    if you don’t win, you feel terrible.
    then you try to win again.
    you have to wait a long time almost

    always to find out that you’ve won.
    if you win, you feel happy in the moment.
    there are parties maybe.

    you smile a lot. the next day
    you start over.
    time to win another one.

    whole lifetimes can go by that way.
    whereas without the prize thing
    you could just be happy living your life.

    mary angela douglas 5 april 2016

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