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Imagine needing to think you’re beautiful

And you’re not.

You keep telling yourself yes there’s help

Even though there really isn’t a lot.

You enjoy the gleaming eye and the love

Of someone; but you don’t know it’s their self-love

Which excites them—their beauty, not yours,

Is the passage, and other shores not yours

Their fate. Not you, but the wine

Made her moan, her eyes shine,

And she agreed to take a few tours,

She, the stupidly, sweetly, innocently beautiful, oh beauty

That will never be yours. You will be alone,

Thinking you are beautiful, and you’re not.

You’ll pay for the airfare, and this savage spot,

And you’ll look at all the swaying beauty,

Thinking you are beautiful. Like Lily Lane,

And her professor—what’s his name?

You will smile, and they will smile back—with pity.

The hotel staff,

Even the beggars on the island, will laugh.

I like you. Do you really think you’re pretty?

Be quiet, they might think you’re smart.

Make junk—call it original art.

Swagger, threaten, there are many ways,

To excel, work hard—even on Sundays.

Play the victim; this can be charming.

There are many ways to be disarming.

I was terribly shy as a blonde child,

And I was protected in Manhattan’s wild.

Be anything your heart desires.

But not beautiful. Those are sacred, distant fires.



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When you were my mother, and mothered me, and told me what to do,

When you stopped your life for me, this was love—all love is, I knew.

They held everyone accountable in the psychology books:

Mother needs to love you, and your father needs to love your mother. Otherwise we become perverts and crooks.

That’s what the world in a dream, did; they put this truth in books.

We knew it was true. Until the sellers came along, with their new and fancy looks.

Mother in the store window. Mother in a bra. What did I see

That I hold dearly to my poetry?

What did I experience, that I hold

Poetry close, seeing normalized perversions sold?

They say to know what it is, look at where it came from, then

It is too late—if you fall in love with a snake, slithering out of its den.

Did she say goodbye to your father? Or, mother, did you say goodbye to me?

This room will be a stream for eternity.






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Why should the eye

Have all the fun?

Why does love into my passive sight run

And remain there?

Because my mind doesn’t dare?

Because my heart doesn’t care?

Why should my passive eye feast

On the mere sight of her?

Which isn’t her?

Light ends, and weighs the least.

I see the way her face bends to show

Her neck. But what does my eye know?

She doesn’t know herself in my eye—

Ignorance ignorantly looked at—why

Does the sight of her give pleasure, why?

Why should my casual eye

Be the king, the policy, the people, the army, the spy?

If she is mine, the weight of her, everything must fall

Into my falling, my beautiful story rising to her beautiful story,

Wedding, romance, hero-worship, kindness, eye-to-eye glory.

The philosophy of long-distance seeing

Convinces my germ-fearing body sight is being.

Sight looks from the safety of its own

Seeing. Looking at looking is all that fear can own.

The million images drifting by

Finally brings madness to the power-hungry eye.

Passivity, even one that wears such a crown,

Brings the most optimistic lover down.

The eye has no authority at all.

She must be. She must recognize me.

It is how thought exists. It is how things in poetry

Come to be. Blind, she comes to me when I call.


War is love, and diplomacy is the true

Art of war. My diplomacy distracted you.

Let’s not pretend love isn’t war.

Love fights peacefully—the fighting is what love is for.

Unable to fight the human race the way you really want,

My helpless, vulnerable love was great to tease and taunt.

War and love can equally contribute to fame.

Chess? Crime? Poem? Love’s the best thinking game.

I won, didn’t I?

You know, that I know, that you know, I won.

There was no violence, no battle cry.

Fighting you in love was a great source of fun.

We elevate blame to war, in love, and elevate war to blame.

You get blamed for the broken heart.

Blame is the essence of war, love—and art,

And the art of love and war are the same.

Some will say: What a loser, to think in love you can “win.”

And there is no winner; this is true

If you look at things from their point of view

But I don’t care what they say. This poem is meant for you.

I won, didn’t I?

First, you were my ally.

You thought you could win with me.

You were right. I adored you. I wrote you poetry.

“By the gods of love they shared,

By the gods of war they dared.”

This was our motto, which I wrote for you.

(It’s not Latin, but it will do.)

Our hiding places, many. Our kisses, never few.

But this is not a moral tale. I’m a lover taunting you.

This is what the best muses command their poets to do.

Love, like anything, demands a fee.

The payment was kisses—and poetry.

Even determined war needs its muse,

Just as martial music is a variation of the blues.

Love and war, at their best, amuse the crowd with news.

Love and war are vistas: clumsy, and wrong.

Diplomacy and poetry are the hope, as well as mathematical song.

I won, didn’t I?

This is a poem. You can’t reply.

Yes, that sweet refrain,

The source of all pleasure, the source of all pain.

Don’t cry, don’t cry.

A healthy poet’s yell, divine, cunning, insane.

I won, didn’t I?

You know, that I know, that you know, I won.

Because I’m here. And your thoughts aren’t done.

The ally is everything. Eventually, you chose another entity—

It doesn’t matter who or what—over me.

There is only one difference between war and love, but it means a lot.

Love asks permission. War does not.

You didn’t ask permission when you left.

Diplomacy was all I had, bereft.

I made diplomatic calls, but you ignored

Every single one. Were you in crisis? Or just bored?

It was impossible to tell.

During our love, I never knew you well.

You were not about the feeling, but the sell.

But you never lied.

And once when I held you, you cried.

I learned about love from you. I learned it very well.

What a war it was. The other entity

Had to be used, and I used it exceedingly well.

Mine was a diplomatic coup.

It satisfied me. I don’t have to guess what it did to you.

I won, didn’t I?

Then here’s a song,

Since you cannot look me in the eye.

A pity! The kind, the nice, will attack you.

Please don’t let my love distract you.







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Morally she can’t stand him,

But she had to have a cigarette when she saw him smoke.

Consciousness builds walls. Walls the brains of the folk.

Everything physical is moral—but no one told her this.

The moral is not: “not kissing.” The moral is who you kiss,

And you kiss what the physical wants.

Her love is tortured severely

By these physical dreams, these physical taunts,

By the fact everything is physical:

Sunlight and the ether; everything beautiful

Is physical. The whole study of morals is contained

In the physically ugly. Physically ugly is moral.

Groceries and poems at the store. Oh, and don’t forget the laurel.

Things crowd out the moon until the moral has no place to go.

The night remains unseen. Her sense of things orbits things

Impossible to know.

To never know! To never know!

The heated ether, the wavering atmosphere, the fading glow.

Sleep and love, feeling their way between deep, dark summer rains.

Morals made her moral. But the physical, in the thump of her heart, remains.

She might love again, but how long, how long?

She switches on the television. Her best friend says she is strong.


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 Sushmita Gupta

Poetry doesn’t have a center—therefore this “hot” list is not legitimate, but is.

Good poems and poets are everywhere. These happened to hit my eyes.

The best poems are not being published by the major publishers or the glossy magazines or the Poetry Foundation, but by our Facebook friends, our girlfriends, or the guy sitting next to us at the café. The best poem in English, being written somewhere right now—right now—is probably being written in India. Comforting or not, this is the fact.

The death of Mary Oliver, and its fairly large public notice, shows poetry has a kind of shadow center, if not a real one, occasionally manifesting itself as seemingly real, only to fade into Auden’s cry, “poetry makes nothing happen.” Slowly, in obscure corners of people’s hearts, poetry does happen. It has no intellectual, philosophical, or critical identity, and its social identity is crushed by cinema and the popular song. But times change, and poetry does seem to be simmering towards something larger in the places where large things occur.

Poetry as the technical art, and poetry as it vaguely exists in the everyday efforts and reflections of the world are two different things. No poet or critic is responsible for the vastness of the latter.

In this contemporary snapshot list of poems, I intentionally made the search greater to include the best-known sources, for two reasons: “what are the most distinguished outlets doing?” and for the sake of variety.

So the poems on this list are poems I happily and locally and accidentally see, and also poems gleaned from sources which a slightly larger audience sees.

This explains why you see the poems you do.

As far as how the poems are actually ranked, the best first, and so on, again, I plead guilty to subjectivity, which never excuses authoritarian decisions—it only makes them seem more authoritarian; but the word authoritarian is overused and misused these days—whatever decisions the comfortable, fake-revolutionaries don’t like, are called, after the fact, authoritarian.

The poems are ranked by the best lines uttered in these poems.

Philip Nikolayev (on the list) has a theory that poetry lives, finally, in great lines.

It was a great Facebook discussion, and I forget what I said about it, then, which is all that matters—the Scarriet Hot 100 I introduce here is my authoritarian moment in the sun—and why I bring it up, I don’t know, because I agreed with Nikolayev, then, and now, perhaps, I don’t.

All the poems on the Hot 100 list are good—but some, as good as they are, have nothing but plain and ordinary lines, or phrases. No stand-alone piece of the poem—good when the poem is read as a whole—sounds very interesting.

In rare instances, the title of the poem, coupled with the selected mundane part of the poem, combines to be of interest, or surprising. As you judge, keep the titles in mind as you read the line.

Because the ranking here is by line (or part of a line, or lines) I should say a word or two about what makes a good line.

I believe it can be summed up: a good line is where the vision and the rhythm speak together.

Some lines are good for purely prose fiction reasons—they sound like the start of a great short story. They point, rather than being the point.

One more thing: since Scarriet has written on Indian poetry recently, many poets are from India; those designated “Scarriet” were featured on that date on this site, though found elsewhere. Please search, enjoy, and support, will you? all 100 of these poets.


(1) Jennifer Barber —Continuum (2018 The Charles River Journal #8) “Sure, it was a dream, but even so/you put down the phone so soundlessly”

(2) A.E. Stallings —Pencil (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Atlantic) “Perfection was a blot/That could not be undone.”

(3) Sushmita Gupta —Gently Please  (12/18 FB) “Everything hurts,/Even that/Which seems like love.”

(4) William Logan —The Kiss (2017 Rift of Light Penguin) “‘I’ve never thought of you that way, I guess.’/She touched me then with the ghost of a caress.”

(5) Eliana Vanessa —this black rose (12/13 FB) “I’d rather be outside, with him,/turning stones in the rain,/than here,/listening to the hum/of so many skulls, alone.”

(6) Abhijit Khandkar —Bombil  (Poetry Delhi 12/1) “So I write this poem and feed it to the ravenous sea.”

(7) Philip Nikolayev —Blame (1/4/19 FB) “within its vast domain confined”

(8) Sharanya Manivannan —Keeping the Change (12/5/18 Scarriet) “burdening the wisps of things,/their threats to drift away.”

(9) Hoshang Merchant —Scent of Love (10/12/18 Scarriet) “I have myself become wild in my love for a wild thing”

(10) Divya Guha —Non-attendance (1/16/19 Gmail) “The shaver missing, your greedy laptop: gone too, hiding you.”

(11) Ravi Shankar —Buzzards (12/5/18 Scarriet) “What matters cannot remain.”

(12) Mary Angela Douglas —Epiphany of the White Apples (1/3/19 Scarriet) “one candle grown lilac in a perpetual Spring”

(13) N Ravi Shankar—Bamboo (12/26/17 FB) “You are nude, sweet mother,/so am I/as the bamboos creak a lullaby”

(14) Aseem Sundan —The Poet Lied About The Paradise (1/12/19 Indian Poetry) “How do I make the paper turn blood red?/How do I make everyone read it?”

(15) Stephen Cole —The descriptor heart (1/18/19 FB) “I feel the wind-tides/Off San Fernando Mountain./I hear the cry of suicide brakes/Calling down the sad incline/Of Fremont’s Pass.”

(16) Yana Djin —Days are so slow, adoni, so slow (1/2/19 Vox Populi) “In the dusk leaves like golden suns shiver and glow”

(17) Ann Leshy Wood —Thanksgiving, For my father, 1917-2012 (11/23/16 FB) “where groves of oranges rot,/and somber groups of heron graze/by the bay.”

(18) Shalim Hussain —Dighalipukhuri (12/5/18 Scarriet) “His downy heart bleeds over the bliss beneath.”

(19) Linda Ashok —Tongue Tied (4/4/18 Cultural Weekly) “How deep is the universe? How many/light years will it take to reach your belly”

(20) Marilyn Chin —How I Got That Name (2018 Selected Poems, Norton) “by all that was lavished upon her/and all that was taken away!”

(21) Diane Lockward —The Missing Wife (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “The wife and the dog planned their escape”

(22) Daipayan Nair —Roseate with Jyoti (Season 2) Poem VI (12/30/18 FB) “you hold my hand like possibilities”

(23) Ranjit Hoskote —Effects of Distance (8/10/18 Scarriet) “Blue is the color of air letters, of conqueror’s eyes./Blue, leaking from your pen, triggers this enterprise.”

(24) Nabina Das —Death and Else (9/7/18 Scarriet) “under the same ceiling/fan from where she/later dangled.”

(25) Sridala Swami —Redacted poetry is a message in a bottle (6/9/18 Scarriet) “There is only this book, and your one chance of speaking to the world is through the words in it.”

(26) Anand Thakore —Elephant Bathing (7/5/18 Scarriet) “As pale flamingoes, stripped irretrievably of their pinks,/Leap into a flight forever deferred.”

(27) Danez Smith —acknowledgments (December 2018 Poetry) “i call your mama mama”

(28) Anne Stevenson —How Poems Arrive (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Hudson Review) “Or simply wait/Till it arrives and tells you its intention.”

(29) Jennifer Robertson —Coming Undone (4/14/18 Scarriet) “ocean after ocean after ocean”

(30) Srividya Sivakumar—Wargame (1/12/19 Scarriet) “I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.”

(31) Medha Singh —Gravedigger (January 2019 Indian Quarterly) “you’ve/remembered how the winter went/as it went on”

(32) Lily Swarn —The Cobbler (1/7/19 Pentasi B World Friendship Poetry) “The stink of poverty cowered in fear!!”

(33) Sophia Naz —Neelum (5/2/18 Scarriet) “Deviants and dervishes of the river/lie down the length of her”

(34) James Longenbach —This Little Island (November 2018 Poetry) “And when the land stops speaking/The wave flows out to sea.”

(35) Sam Sax —Prayer for the Mutilated World (September 2018 Poetry) “that you are reading this/must be enough”

(36) Raena Shirali —Daayan After A Village Feast (Anomaly #27) “we become mist, shift/groveward, flee.”

(37) Priya Sarukkhai Chabria —She says to her girlfriend (12/5/18 Scarriet) “in the red slush/open/to flaming skies.”

(38) Nitoo Das —How To Write Erotica (10/12/18 Scarriet) “You’re allowed to be slightly long-winded.”

(39) Sukrita Kumar —The Chinese Cemetery (4/14/18 Scarriet) “Flames are messengers/Carrying the known/To the unknown”

(40) Zachary Bos —All that falls to earth (May, 2018 Locust Year—chapbook) “In a library properly sorted/ecology stands beside eulogy.”

(41) Khalypso —Women Are Easy To Love Over The Internet (Anomaly #27) “to wake up/strangers & sticky & questioning.”

(42) C.P. Surendran —Prospect (10/12/18 Scarriet) “A train, blindfolded by a tunnel,/Window by window/Regained vision.”

(43) Dan Sociu —The Hatch (Trans. Carla Bericz, National Translation Month) “the man with the tambourine went off cursing me”

(44) Nalini Priyadarshni —When You Forget How To Write a Love Poem (12/21 Chantarelle’s Notebook a poetry e-zine) “You try different places at different hours,/dipping your pen in psychedelic summer skies”

(45) June Gehringer —I Don’t Write About Race (1/16/19 Luna Luna Magazine) “I don’t write about race,/ I write about gender,/ I once killed a cis white man,/ and his first name/ was me.”

(46) Robin Flicker —I fell asleep holding my notebook and pen (12/22 FB) “In my dream, the pen was a pair of scissors, and I had to cut out every letter of every word.”

(47) Robin Morgan —4 Powerful Poems about Parkinson’s (10/15/15 TED Talk You Tube) “Growing small requires enormity of will.”

(48) Arundhathi Subramaniam —Prayer (11/15/18 Scarriet) “when maps shall fade,/nostalgia cease/and the vigil end.”

(49) Menka Shivdasani —The Woman Who Speaks To Milk Pots (9/7/18 Scarriet) “I shall turn the heat up,/put the lid on./Watch me.”

(50) Ryan Alvanos —7:30 (2011 From Here—album online) “not too long and not too far/I carefully left the door ajar”

(51) Tishani Doshi —The Immigrant’s Song (3/16/18 Scarriet) “hear/your whole life fill the world/until the wind is the only word.”

(52) Semeen Ali —You Look At Me (3/16/18 Scarriet) “for a minute/That one minute/contains my life”

(53) Kim Gek Lin Short —Playboy Bunny Swimsuit Biker (American Poetry Review vol 48 no 1) “If truth be told/the theft began/a time before/that summer day.”

(54) Lewis Jian —Mundane Life (1/9/19 World Literature Forum) “who’s wise enough to reach nirvana?”

(55) Dimitry Melnikoff —Offer Me (1/12/19 Facebook Poetry Society) “Offer me a gulp of this light’s glow”

(56) Kushal Poddar —This Cat, That (12/13/18 FB) “call its name around/with the bowl held in my cooling hand./I can see myself doing this. All Winter. All Summer.”

(57) Ben Mazer —Divine Rights (2017 Selected Poems) “her room/retains the look/of the room of a stranger”

(58) Christopher T. Schmitz —The Poet’s Oeuvre (12/24 FB) “poems that guess/at the argot of an era to come/and ache with love/for the world he’s leaving/and couldn’t save.”

(59) Simon Armitage  —To His Lost Lover (2017 Interestingliterature) “And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,/about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.”

(60) Akhil Katyal —For Someone Who Will Read This 500 Years From Now (7/5/18 Scarriet) “How long did India and Pakistan last?”

(61) Minal Hajratwala —Operation Unicorn: Field Report (8/10/18 Scarriet) “The unicorns are a technology/we cannot yet approximate.”

(62) Jehanne Dubrow —Eros and Psyche (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “my mother might stay asleep forever, unbothered by the monument of those hands”

(63) Rochelle Potkar —Friends In Rape (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles Fishman, Sahay, eds) “Doesn’t she smile at each one of your jokes?”

(64) Merryn Juliette —Her Garden (9/21 FB) “grey as I am”

(65) Marilyn Kallet —Trespass (Plume #89) “Maybe that’s what Verlaine said,/at the end.”

(66) Meera Nair —On Some Days (12/17 FB) “on all days/Without fail/I need you”

(67) Nathan Woods —Wander, Wonder (12/26 FB) “into wands for spells to scatter the beasts”

(68) Rajiv Mohabir —Hybrid Unidentified Whale (11/15/18 Scarriet) “no others/can process its cries into music.”

(69) Dana Gioia —The Stars Now Rearrange Themselves (Video, Dana Gioia Official Site) “a crack of light beneath a darkened door.”

(70) Paige Lewis —You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm (January 2018 Poetry) “Right now, way above your head, two men”

(71) Smita Sahay —For Nameless, Faceless Women (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles) “change the way you tell your stories.”

(72) Sampurna Chattarji —As a Son, My Daughter (2016 Veils, Halos & Shackles) “You fear nothing./You frighten me.”

(73) Michelina Di Martino —Original Sin (1/12/19 Intense Call of Feelings) “Let us make love. Where are we?”

(74) Jo-Ann Mort —Market Day (Plume #89) “wanting the air/ beside me to welcome you.”

(75) Sohini Basak—Laconic (1/12/19 Scarriet) “the rude dove just blinked”

(76) Carol Kner —Pieces of us Keep Breaking Off (Plume #89) “to quench the rage that lunges daily”

(77) Shikha Malaviya —September 9, 2012 (A poem in 9 hours) (11/15/18 Scarriet) “Our hips swaying badly/to Bollywood beats”

(78) Michael Creighton —New Delhi Love Song (8/10/18 Scarriet) “all are welcomed with a stare in New Delhi.”

(78) Ranjani Murali —Singing Cancer: Ars Film-Poetica (8/10/18 Scarriet) “Anand jumps to his death from the staggering height of two feet”

(79) Jeet Thayil —Life Sentence (7/5/18 Scarriet) “your talk is of meat and money”

(80) Urvashi Bahuguna —Boy (6/9/18 Scarriet) “Girl kisses/some other boy. Girl wishes/it was Boy.”

(81) Huzaifa Pandit —Buhu Sings an Elegy for Kashmir (3/16/18 Scarriet) “The beloved weeps in a hollow tongue”

(82) Nandini Dhar —Map Pointing At Dawn (2/21/18 Scarriet) “Ghost uncle is a calligrapher who cannot hold/a pen between his fingers.”

(83) Sumana Roy —Root Vegetables (2/21/18 Scarriet) “darkness drinks less water than light”

(84) Jorie Graham —Scarcely There (January 2019 Poetry) “We pass here now onto the next-on world. You stay.”

(85) Christian Wiman —The Parable of Perfect Silence (December 2018 Poetry) “Two murderers keep their minds alive/while they wait to die.”

(86) Martha Zweig —The Breakfast Nook (December 2018 Poetry) “One day it quits./The whole business quits. Imagine that.”

(87) Alex Dimitrov —1969 (September 2018 Poetry) “Then returned to continue the war.”

(88) Campbell McGrath —My Music (12/17/18 The New Yorker) “My music is way better than your music”

(89) Terrance Hayes —American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The New Yorker) “It is possible he meant that, too.”

(90) Garrison Keillor —I Grew Up In A Northern Town (1/12/19 FB) “Starved for love, obsessed with sin,/Sunlight almost did us in.”

(91) Dick Davis —A Personal Sonnet (2018 Best American Poetry, Lehman, Gioia—The Hudson Review) “These are the dreams that turned out to be real.”

(92) Sharon Olds —The Source (2018 All We Know of Pleasure—Poetic Erotica by Women, Shomer) “Ah, I am in him”

(93) Manjiri Indurkar —Diabetes at a Birthday Party  (1/12/19 Scarriet) “Who talks about diabetes at someone’s birthday party?/Ma’s life is a cautionary tale.”

(94) Jayanta Mahapatra —Her Hand (1/12/19 Scarriet) “The little girl’s hand is made of darkness/How will I hold it?”

(95) Rony Nair —Solarium (1/12/19 Scarriet) “some people get off on sleeping with your enemy”

(96) John Murillo —A Refusal To Mourn The Deaths By Gunfire, Of Three Men In Brooklyn (American Poetry Review vol 48 no 1) “You strike your one good match to watch it bloom/and jook”

(97) CA Conrad —a Frank poem (12/31/18 Facebook Fraternity of Poets, “one experience is quietly/consumed by the next”

(98) Sara J. Grossman —House of Body (Anomaly #27) “weather of abundant appendages”

(99) Rupi Kaur —did you think i was a city (1/5/19 Instagram) “i am not street meat i am homemade jam”

(100) Warsan Shire —The House (2017 Poetry Foundation) “Everyone laughs, they think I’m joking.”








Hey, dude. Your lust means more than any woman.

So leave her alone, let her be.

Dude, I wouldn’t want you expressing anything like that to me.

And, really, she’s the same way.

She doesn’t want to obey nature;

She aspires to be a person like me,

Whether writing—or just thinking about—poetry.

I’m a dude trapped inside a dude’s body;

I’m enough. I don’t need my kind.

I’m a man comfortable in a man’s mind.

The text I spied off the woman sitting next to me

Was nothing: “Ahhh I’m OK.”

I saw guys check her out on the train—

Everyone is quiet there. Maybe insane,

But commuting, texting. That’s just the way.

So there wasn’t a word between her and me.

I’m trained. I’m a good member of society.

But you know how I am. I analyzed the ‘nothing’ text,

And realized it was ripe with meaning.

“Oh well, I guess I’m alright” is the normal meaning.

But here’s what I think it meant:

“Ahhh” was a scream. Ahhh! No, I’m not okay!

“I’m okay” was a lie, or perhaps, she’s divided:

Part screaming, part okay.

Or—and this is probably crazy: I sighed

Aloud before she wrote it. What if the “Ahhh”

Were really a sigh, unconsciously

In response to me

And she was OK with my company?


You feel as much as I

And we might as well confess feeling is the highest thing we can be.

So while I see you waiting there

In your coat, in line, pardon me if I stare.

It’s a poet’s stare. Nothing else is really there

But delicate feeling.

Now I’m staring at the ceiling.

You are wholly different from me,

From a different place arrived, and different places left,

So that by every possible measure my knowledge of you is bereft.

You feel as much as me.

That’s all I know, or feel, or see.

I’m stupid. That’s me.

You may be anguished at how stupid everything seems.

But nothing is, but what you feel.

Nothing else is: neither substances, nor accomplishment, nor dreams.

I see you. You’re a wall.

And my worst nightmare is that you don’t feel anything at all.



God is cold. Allah commands

We cover our hearts and ears as the end of pleasure demands.

Who are these, my neighbors, listening to Mozart in the snow?

Solemn concerts at church, where they warn against fires that grow?

Denying the heat in their hearts as they wave cheerfully to me?

You will torture me to death! You kiss me on the shoulder and knee.

Your whole life is a funeral. An obsolete march in the snow.

Why do you read, by the weak lamp, the ice cold poetry of Poe?

Why don’t the creatures of warm breath, who hate death,

And who desire warmth, know?

Those former pleasures

Would only torture me now.

They seem too holy, those former pleasures,

Delicate, beautiful, but not beautiful enough, somehow.

The quaint instruments were played well.

Pleasure the aim—in those days the populace lived too close to hell.

The horrifying pain of the unfortunate were drowned out

By the ecstasies of Mozart and Poe, the historians have no doubt.

But today the warmth of Mozart seems too cold.

In my loneliness I think of sex in terms which are far more cunning and bold.

Cold is the source of all pain. And cold—cold is death.

So why can’t the creatures of pleasure understand this, with their warm breath?

Why don’t the creatures of pleasure, ice melting on their faces,

Remain in the cold of the colder places?


Image result for wedding in renaissance painting

Because I love you

I want to say to you how I love you so you can be loved.

Love needs to be love before it can love—

But these preparations for love,

In a soul like mine, lag behind what I already did.

Once life is over, the person emerges,

The eyes which look at you, the sun and everything purges.

Though it now seems a dream, I loved you already,

Not in philosophical discussions with myself in bars

As other inebriated dreams sentimentalized their life in cars,

No, I loved already, past adolescence, your entire, presentable life,

The handbag, the job, the suppression, you, the responsible, real, but unloving wife.

I took you in my arms; I feasted on your eyes, I glimpsed, and then had,

I loved you in the ceremonial manner

That was halting, predominant, not good, admissible, but not bad,

Traditional, ambulatory, anticipatory, banter already occupying a cloud of desire,

Heating up Littlefield’s, the folly made of crimson, paper in and made to resemble fire,

As we joked that this would be a dream inside a dream to top all dreams,

The thing happening in various locations, our talk. But now it seems

The heated circus stunts and daring cloud of stars, now forgotten and old,

The horror of the novel lost, things erased, every detail gone cold,

I want to love you again. Nothing is old. It’s still the same.

Other things get old; not love, the cliché, not love, the flame.

But now, giving up a role to play, I’ll know what to do.

Before I loved the ceremony, not you.



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They have another drink

Because they can’t think about it anymore:

The leaves are springing in spring

And she is right behind the door.

They think it pertains to them,

So their feelings begin to shout.

They think the universe is theirs,

But is that what this poem is about?

If urgency leads to urgency,

It’s best not to be urgent at all.

Only a calm demeanor reverses

The cause and effect of the long fall.

Remember when you panicked?

And it was nothing, later on?

The ones who got excited

Are the ones who are gone.


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She told him no. He wasn’t to do that.

She made him feel like a rat.

The wrath belonged to her. He

Was the child, rebuked; she

Was the parent; she was in command

Of the relationship. She told him

When to lift off and when to land.

She knew what she was doing,

Except when they kissed, or were screwing.

She made it clear she would dump him in a second

So that gave her the upper hand.

Administering the relationship for her

Cautious, introverted, pleasure

Was a skill she had.

So it was a little hard to understand

When she said “I like it when the man takes control.”

It was her creation. Even her own soul.

All it took was wrath. She got mad

And he would lie awake at night, sad.

He was the poet, but he only made

Poems. She wove their very light and shade.

She liked secret, upper floor offices.

She preferred the view above

From humming, quiet offices.

And then there was his love.






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A woman is the one who says no.

Her slightest yes is always to know

Her razor existence of no after no.

Her slightest yes is always to know

Better, better, if she had said no.

The woman, dear woman! is the one who says no.

But know that love can never say no.

No is never in love, you know.

We all know what no is for.

But love is never stopped by a door.

Beautiful, wanting love comes in

Past strong doors and discussions of sin.

If the woman says yes—but the man says no,

By her yes, triumphant, he makes her known.

The soul as a yes becomes so known

The safety and dignity of no is overthrown.

The soul would rather be alone,

The soul wants by no to be known.

The yes, in a few shadows, loftily grown

Is unspeakable,

Crowned with yes by the crowd, and known.

They heard a door, behind which a groan

Led in its ravishing pride to a throne

Bright, inviolate, tall, and alone

Which they saw in the darkness.

No one wants by yes to be known.

The yes is fated to die by the no.

No is never for love, you know.

His yes to her yes: then she will know

Possession, desire—she must not say no.

Love is not yes, and love is not no.

Love is beautiful, but nothing we know.

Ponder the no, calculate the yes,

But never say it. The slightest yes

Is not for love. Love has nothing to do with yes.

No is the door, and the heartbeat, and the dress.

No is the earth and the earth that’s here.

No was peace enjoyed last year.

Lust knows but a few things:

One song always sung, singing always, once it sings.



Tell me first it’s a poem. Otherwise

I won’t know what is hitting my eyes.

You are so beautiful and I am a fool

to be in love with you

is a theme that keeps coming up

in songs and poems.

There seems to be no room for variation.

I have never heard anyone sing

I am so beautiful

and you are a fool to be in love with me.

I note Mr. Collins’ points one by one

Regarding love songs, and when he’s done,

With all his points agreeing,

He shifts to a nightclub, a singer named Johhny, a sax.

What exactly am I seeing?

Mr. Collins bravely states the facts.

For no particular reason this afternoon

I am listening to Johnny Hartman

whose dark voice can curl around

the concepts on love, beauty, and foolishness

like no one else can.

It feels like smoke curling up from a cigarette

someone left burning on a baby grand piano

around three o’ clock in the morning;

smoke that billows up into the bright lights

while out there in the darkness

some of the beautiful fools have gathered

around little tables to listen,

some with their eyes closed,

others leaning forward into the music

as if it were holding them up,

or twirling the loose ice in a glass,

slipping by degrees into a rhythmic dream.

The Iowa Workshop with her beautiful fools

Revolutionizes poetry in the schools

As Mr. Collins makes us feel

The beautiful fools are beautiful and real.

Tell me first it’s a poem. Otherwise

I won’t know what is hitting my eyes.

So it’s a poem, after all, one of those

Which is, let’s face it, prose,

But it’s too late. Music is lost in the word.

Prose that wants to be a poem is absurd.

Yes, there is all this foolish beauty,

borne beyond midnight,

that has no desire to go home,

especially now when everyone in the room

is watching the large man with the tenor sax

that hangs from his neck like a golden fish.

He moves forward to the edge of the stage

and hands the instrument down to me

and nods that I should play.

So I put the mouthpiece to my lips

and blow into it with all my living breath.

The Iowa workshop poem sure can wail.

The beautiful fool has me, and will not fail.

The prose is blowing golden sequences that seem

The innumerable flickering sequences of a dream.

The humanities! The curricula! The school!

Mr. Collins is wise! Too wise to circumvent the fool.

We are all so foolish,

my long bebop solo begins by saying,

so damn foolish

we have become beautiful without even

knowing it.

And so the Iowa effort ends.

Midnight. All the little tables are friends.

We read prose without knowing it’s prose.

A fool picks up the tenor sax. And blows.





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January closes this book—but not forever, just on this series—on Indian Poetry: 84 living poets associated with India, writing in English, chosen by Linda Ashok, and here, for a year, reviewed (very briefly, unfortunately) by Scarriet, starting in February 2018.

The British influence on the Indian poets born towards the middle of the last century was notable—and by “British,” I should say, Empire, because the world is run this way—the “Godless” nature poetry of Ted Hughes is evident in much modern poetry, no matter where it is written, and of course “modernism” also means the mechanical, the quotidian, war, displacement, as well as modest poems of small-life zen; modern Indian poets are like the modern British and the modern American poets—love, beauty, and the sublime make them a little uneasy; whenever they go that way, irony is necessary; the “Great Themes” belong to the 19th century, not the 20th, or the 21st, with their monumental nightmares.  Still, the best poets mix great and small—and the Indian poets do this as well as anyone.  Indian poetry is as strong as British and American poetry—I have no doubt, now.  Thank you, again, Linda Ashok.

Manjiri Indurkar writes crazy poetry which makes you shake your head, or grin, or perhaps chuckle. It’s not “crazy” because it’s crazy—it’s crazy because she writes about what is very real.

“I scratch my head and watch dandruff snowflakes fall on my keyboard.”

She fails Poe’s test for poetry; the popular poem is chiefly about Beauty, he says, and appeals most to Taste, which occupies the middle ground between Reason and Passion. The 19th century wisdom, dropping universally, like petals, or rain.

Schooled in Poe, I could vow to never read this poet, again. The dandruff-on-the-keyboard image, from “Diabetes at a Birthday Party” horrifies me, in my dignified and beautiful robes.

But I won’t keep my vow—Indurkar is endearing as hell.

And I wonder silently,
Who talks about diabetes at someone’s birthday party?
Ma’s life is a cautionary tale.

—from “Diabetes at a Birthday Party”

This is contemporary poetry in a nutshell—troubledhomely, embarrassing. The psychology is naked—Manjiri Indurkar is exactly like her mom—well-meaning, but inappropriate. But she is one step removed from her garrulous mother; because she will “wonder silently”-–in a poem.


Sohini Basak has a poem, “Laconic,” which could pass for a 19th century poem, which could please Poe—but it’s a poem in which the poet basically says ‘fuck you’ to a bird.

This may prove Poe right. Taste is how we say something—inappropriate, or not.

Passion belongs to all of us, no matter what kind of poet we are and no matter what kind of person we are. Passion is mostly private feelings, and remains under the radar.

We express our passions, if we ever do, in private, to a friend, or perhaps, in a poem, if we are a poet, appropriately, or inappropriately, as speech—guided by manners, or decorum.

If the police come running, or we lose our job, in 99 cases out of 100 it is because we violated, conspicuously, some norm of manners, or Taste.

Taste is not passion, or truth. Taste is how we publicly behave. Taste is precisely how we write our poems.

“Laconic,” like any poem, is fed by passion; the expression, the poem, itself, however, is determined by taste.

Here is Basak’s poem, in full—a delightful poem, in which human and bird interact, or do not interact (come to think of it, just like Poe’s famous poem):

Not everyone will respond to whistling; take the collared dove
I tried to talk to this morning while checking if my socks
were still wet on the clothesline. I said hello to which
the dove paid no notice, her speckled plumes shining
fish scales in the warm December sun. I quickly added,
how do you do, this time with a flair of a curtsey and when
that did not work, I said kemon achen (using the formal
second person subject pronoun in case some birds were
easily offended.) But the rude dove just blinked, disregarded
my speech, and shifted her attention to a bug on the juniper.
I considered waving but was embarrassed to admit that even
if I moved my limbs I did not fly. Finally, I garbled, cooed
in three different pitches, in vain barked, but the dove did not
open her beak, must be bird-brained, I said under my breath.
Then the button eye blinked and she flew away leaving me
behind with my pair of wet socks and two cold feet.
Every winter, I promise to learn something new: this time
I have decided to learn how to dovespeak, else fill my afternoons
continuing to build a tower of Babel out of the unused clothespins.


Mrinalini Harchandrai has a book with a very catchy title, A Bombay In My Beat. The following poem, “Making Art,” is published in The Bangalore Review.

The studio was lit
by December smog,
you’d make tea
make lunch
make breathless moans,
then you burned plastic paint
to make statements
about the environment.

The best brief poems are full of wide expanses; but the short poem, domesticated, resembling a small, well-appointed room, is good, too, and Harchandrai’s “Making Art” falls into this latter category. “breathless moans” hints the poet wants us to think ‘making love,’ when she writes Making Art. Her poem beautifully depicts the romantic, yet wretched, painter’s life: sorrowful, naughty, small, enclosed, smelly—and Harchandrai adds a searing, contemporary, eco-indictment which no doubt the intrepid artist will survive—even as burning plastic stinks up the “studio…lit by December smog.”


Rony Nair, also a photographer, is concerned with swirling chaos, but with a wry look. He writes “dude” poetry, and the term “dude” is meant only as a passing aesthetic description, not the label which some might consider pejorative, or sexist, breeding in their minds a chaos in which virtues which are not virtues—too wordy? too philosophical?—collide. The poems of Rony Nair resemble psychological journeys of Odysseus. They invoke crazy, but with a linguistically self-assured undercurrent of ‘don’t worry, this dude can handle it.’

“One by one they pass away/leaving you and me, apart in tether.” is how “An Actress dies At a Wedding” begins.

If that doesn’t convey what kind of poet he is, let me quote, in full, one rather brief poem of his, and it will be easy to see what I am talking about:


some people die for Grace Kelly every night.
some people die on signboards piling tax free dreams and sons denied.
some people see failure spreading out in their shadow.
some people die careening life’s streets on their furrow.
some people fight white panoplies, red hot hate.
some people orgasm, imagining hell’s gate.
some people get off on sleeping with your enemy.
The enemy becomes Grace Kelly.
Grace Kelly becomes you.


Srividya Sivakumar gave a Ted talk in which she says “words complete the package” and “words are who you are.” As a bibliophile and a poet, who understands that children love words, that social media is driven by words, that plagiarism keeps us from self-discovery, she is one of those thinkers who goes so far as to say words originate the idea, and not the other way around.  The poet Shelley said thoughts are made of words—therefore poetry is thought itself.

In “Wargame,” does she use words to dive beneath them?  Not quite. Are the words diving into more words? Not really. Do her words ask for more words? Yes, this would be more accurate to say. “Wargame” resembles “wordgame,” and knowing how passionate Sivakumar is about words, we guess the resemblance is intentional—but we also see that she is not only passionate about words. She is passionate.

Here is the poem, in full.

Speak. Seek. Advance. Retreat. Say a word. A thought or two. Sing for me. You know you want to.
Canoe down the river. Climb up the waterfall. I’ll be here when you get back. Waiting to give it all.
Or maybe I’m not here. I’m deep-sea diving somewhere. I’m searching for coral and abalone deep in the dragon’s lair.
You can wait for a change. It will do you good I think. Tie some reeds together. Swim sure, but don’t sink.
In due time, I shall come back to you. Or you’ll find your way to me. Our bodies will know each other. Our hearts will share the same beat.
Till then, let’s wait awhile. You at this end. Me on my side.
Let’s weave a tune for only two. Don’t call it anything.
No title will do.


Gopika Jadeja writes bleak minimalist poetry, and it is a certain power which can make you severely depressed with just a few words. One might not get the references to war places that have been in the news recently—or perhaps years ago—but one still feels sad.


All walls, bullet riddled
All homes, ruins —Adil Mansuri, Bosnia 3


North of Jaffna
from the afternoon auto
I see a crow peck
at the carcass of a mongoose
torn into half entrails
strewn about in the middle
of the dirt road.

The air reeks
a void.


The poet laughs.
Tells stories of war—
radios alive and kicking
on bicycle-run batteries,
a road-side snack
named after landmines.

The poet, bent —
plucks silences
from his head.


At Point Pedro
I want to stop, take a picture
of the large white cross
against the darkening sky—

I cannot.
I am afraid to tread
where laughter is still fragile.


Hand unsteady,
I learn to draw

on pock-marked walls.
To join the dots.

Srinagar. Ramallah.
Baghdad. Beirut. Khobane. Kabul.



Jayanta Mahapatra was born in 1928; a lecturer in physics, he did not write poetry until middle age. One of India’s most honored poets, his poems invoke real life horror, as well as moral ambiguity and struggle. And also transcendent, impossible love.

Her Hand

The little girl’s hand is made of darkness
How will I hold it?

The streetlamps hang like decapitated heads
Blood opens that terrible door between us

The wide mouth of the country is clamped in pain
while its body writhes on its bed of nails

This little girl has just her raped body
for me to reach her

The weight of my guilt is unable
to overcome my resistance to hug her

And so ends Indian Poetry, hosted by Scarriet, February 2018 to January 2019.


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You accept the inferior,

Not music which is sunny and kind.

To reach you I must dig deeper.

Winter is loved by the wintry mind.

You’re not curious. Therefore, God

Is hidden from you by the sod.

You live in an underground cave

Real air is the air I crave.

You accept—everyone accepts—it’s winter,

And God bless you that you do!

And here I am, in this cave with you.

And because you are calm, I am calm, too.

But my heart knows what God will do.

Soon, God will break through;

From our ceiling fall air and music and light,

Lovelier and warmer than this cave of night.

And God’s music will be sunny and kind

To kiss away winter and your wintry mind.


Are you trying to make people feel sorry for you?

Love is better than sympathy. Love is what I tried to do,

And in my spectacular failure, I found,

As my love spoke, you preferred love not to make a sound.

You love to do what you do, as long as no one says what you do.

When I tried to make a speech, a song, a crazy kiss, you would say, no.

You were made for the cedars. You liked to watch the grass grow.

I learned, too late, to be quiet around you.

Sometimes you did want a laugh, or a story.

I complied. But after a while it was clear I was forcing that glory.

If only you needed euphonious words! That’s what I had.

Words praising beauty are superfluous. You said, “shut up.” You got mad.

Love is ruined by the self-consciously grasping. My love became a duty.

Wordless, I marched up the mountain—and saw beauty.

In that far wilderness I was wordless.

Words fell away with the rains. All that was left was yes.





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Wake up, poem, get out of bed.

Last night you were born, an immaculate love, all inside my head.

Go, poem! no more aspiring;

The fading surge of romantic night is retiring.

By evening light, we discussed evening and its philosophy

Like two lovers.  Today, you must leave me.

You were a late afternoon idea, and destined to please me in the night.

Now you must be a poem for real, and go out into the light.

Let’s see if they love you. The metaphor of the “evening tree.”

Let’s see if I am revealed in your shadowy philosophy.

Let’s see if the evening by the day is fed.

Let’s see if love is the love, last night, I loved inside my head.

You must be seen and loved, you must be inspected.

Hopefully, all that was wrong last evening will not be detected.

The light will come through the window. They call it “pitiless day.”

But maybe your flaws will escape them, anyway.

I know. I seem cold. My mood has changed. I’m thinking of other things.

But I do this to all my poems. I’m mute when the poem sings.

It’s over. You are finished. Get up, please; you can’t stay.

If you stay in my head, my poem, poetry will go away.

Pray for the evening, pray for love! Pray for the evening sea!

Don’t worry! If they hate you, there will still be hope for me.


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I sit in the back of the class; I feel strange things

As I try my verse.

The more my teacher likes it,

The more James Jones thinks it’s worse.

My teacher, I think, likes James Jones.

She stops everything when he phones.

My teacher is beautiful. We laugh at her.

Her poetry lectures are greeted with laughter.

She says, “Put Marxism in your work!

A poet who is not Marxist will look like a jerk!”

And we laughed, “Why?

We write poems about New England! Or the sky!”

“Marxism” she said—and we knew she was a fool

By the way she said, “Marxism.” Did she belong in school?—

“Marxism is extravagant, hopeless, moralism. This

Is what poetry is!” And with her mouth she made a kiss.

Then she secretly winked at me.

In that moment, I understood poetry.

My teacher, the Marxist, Marilyn Monroe,

Was a great teacher. She taught poetry that year.

(Later we discovered James Jones was queer.)

She taught me, “Don’t hurry. Be slow.

Recite your poems with a sigh, like slowly melting snow.”


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Reviewing the bad poetry of your friends is like being an undertaker.

Reviewing good poetry is like being a bad poet.

Saying what you like about poetry makes you sound like an ass.

Other people hate poetry.

All the good poets are dead.

The great poets died long ago, so there’s no photos or recordings.

There’s no color.

There’s no smell.

If there’s sound, it’s a mumbler’s or a bore’s.

In the poem I never know whether to rhyme, or not.

In the poem I never know whether to be obvious, or not.

It doesn’t make money.

It goes out of fashion.

My tablet quits.

I run out of ink.

I forget my idea.

I love poetry anyway.

You love me.





You ask my heart to love which is a broken heart.

You ask that war end so love may start.

You advertise peace with a beautiful whore,

But beauty isn’t peace. Beauty started the war.

You ask my heart to love which is a broken heart,

You attempt to heal with what falls apart.

You tempt me and thrill me with a beautiful whore.

You will break my broken heart once more.

Beauty is enticed and distracted by war.

War is love and life and fate.

Cure my broken heart with hate.

Pleasure is the waiting, wait! Wait!

The real is horrible! Idealism is great!

Beauty is the root of love and its flower, hate.

Once more, once more!

Kiss my face, you beautiful whore!

Kiss my face, which is the flower

Of this most glorious, sun-streaked hour.


I’m domesticated and heartbroken and I don’t know what to do.

I’ve sworn off vices, so I’ll sit down and write another poem to you.

The end of love is the ex you ridicule.

You hate him so much you could love him—if he weren’t such a love struck fool.

There is a passage in Dante’s Vita Nuova, where Dante’s senses leave him

When he sees Beatrice, so that desiring to see her more than anything, he can’t.

That’s exactly how you are to me, who I want.

When you approach, with utmost excitement I see that it’s you,

But eager to really see you I can’t really see anything physical about you which is true

And this is why I need to hold you and kiss you because I want to find out that it’s you

Because I don’t know that it’s you, because it’s you.

Poetry is a misunderstanding.

I’m domesticated and heartbroken and I don’t know what to do.

All I can hope is they love my poem, the millions, when really oh God I only wrote it for you.






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To keep from getting hurt

They fled from him, every one.

Even the ones he liked, even those he won.

They couldn’t look at him,

When he came, they held their breath.

But finally, when he couldn’t love,

When they all knew

That all of them were safe

They loved the poet; they called him true.

Your role was different;

In your heart, the knowledge.

For whatever strange reason,

He gave his heart to you.

This was all too much.

Into the crowd you sank.

You hid from Orpheus, too.



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The system is a set of lures and traps,

A maze of partial knowledge and generalized maps.

Every issue you are forced to face must be loved—there is more to know,

Which usually has more to do with love of it than you’ll ever know.

Go ga-ga over the girl, but don’t be afraid

To gradually add less sugar to the lemonade.

Only trust people who can write poems like this:

Polite, who may suddenly surprise you with a kiss;

But better still to be one step ahead, by falling in love

With what they are in the form of cloud, puzzle, dove.

Suspect, at first, that there is something wrong,

Which the genius isn’t telling. The expert doesn’t understand the song;

Only the genius who writes the great song does;

The contemporary clown always forgets the way it was.

I passed on the shiny glass sparkling in the darkened restaurant.

I was selfish. I wanted so much that I didn’t want.





The thing about life and poetry, is that one

Is a horror—if the other one is to be great.

Rosalinda knew this. She guessed great poetry meant loss and suffering.

Rosalinda had had enough of loss and suffering.

I once made it clear to her, “You can’t imagine

The murderous suffering this great poet suffered!”

Because I loved Rosalinda, my poetry was great.

I smiled. Rosalinda smiled. But it was too late.


To examine the pictures, and decide

If her beauty is sufficient to become my bride.

This one shows her nose to be a little too large,

And in this one her mouth seems a little too small.

And this one? Is it the lighting?

She doesn’t seem beautiful at all.

I keep going back to this one, which seems

To depict beauty as it sometimes looks in dreams.

This pile is: marriage. This pile is: I’m not interested at all.

Further analysis will blame the photographer,

Or her moods, and this one hints she really isn’t beautiful.

I must make up my mind.

Long nights with just my eye.

Long nights of deliberation.

This bad picture makes me sigh.

Is she beautiful? It excites me, it pains me, to guess!

Is she beautiful? I asked Rosalinda. And she said yes.






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