A Poetry Exercise

Every week, Dorianne Laux gives my poetry writing workshop an exercise to do in class. I’m not the kind of person who can write well on the spot, and so I’m usually not very good at these. However, last class the stars aligned just right, and I actually really liked what I got out of the exercise. I’ll post the requirements and the poem I got here – try it, and post your own if you get anything good!

The exercise: Write a poem using the words “trash, switch, sewn, burrow, crippling, straddle, ice, ribbed, bitter, beige” the phrase “Be kind to,” and the sound of a crash.

My poem (so far):

Outside In

Between two oaks, the house
straddles the dark earth, her ribcage open
to the sky. The rotted boards
of the attic roof caved in last winter,
after the first snow. Today,
ice clouds the shards of glass that cling
to the windowsills like old teeth.

Inside, the wooden floorboards creak
under my feet, air whistling through
the empty spaces that just a few months ago
sprouted gardens of bitter herbs and weeds
higher than my waist.

Trash burrows in the empty corners.
A yellow fast food wrapper,
like a lone dandelion, is new.
The furniture still comes apart slowly,
drifts of stuffing coating the floor.

In the bedroom, the mattress is covered
with a fading quilt, sewn through with tiny holes,
like the Queen Anne’s lace that grew
in the dining room last spring.

I stand by the iron bedframe,
running my fingers over the rows of tiny stitches,
and I wonder if she could feel the flowers
choking her heart, if in the loneliness, in the cool,
clean ice and the winter wind,
she can breathe more easily.


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