A POEM IS
A traveller who walks a temperate zone
between us, that wherever we went, nowhere
comes the time when it’s later.
Days came heavy with regret,
every poem an epitaph. And any action
glittering like pools of ink under moonlight.
How hard it is, we say—
I turn away.
Just like a shadow in an empty room,
knowing myself yet being someone other—
like an object whose loss has begun to be felt,
my life without a life, my life in a life, my life impure,
now mumbling words like wistful and wan.
Out of nothing it came—
quelled or quenched in leaves the sleeping sun.
Rhyming or trailing gerunds, clumps of words
singing without sound,
the weariness, the fever, and the fret
unloose themselves like stones.
Vaguely, as if not wishing it to stay,
we have erased each letter
except for one thing
you opened for me like an underground door.
Zoom out of the curved night trees,
2. Amy Clampitt, A hairline Fracture
3. Robert Creeley, A Wicker Basket
4. Richard Hugo, Salt Water Story
5. T.S. Eliot,Four Quartets: Little Gidding V
6. W.C. Williams, The Wanderer Clarity
7. Rita Dove, Adolescence II8. Theodore Weiss, Clothes Maketh the Man
9. Margaret Atwood, Daguerreotype Taken in Old Age10. John Ashbery, The Songs We Know Best
11. T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: Little Gidding II
12. John Ashbery, Lost and Found and Lost Again
13. Kenneth Koch, To Marina
14. Diane Ackerman, The Dark Night of the Humming Bird15. William Butler Yeats, Fragments
16. William Butler Yeats, The Tower III
17. Gerard Manly Hopkins, Binsey Poplars
18. Marilyn Hacker, Feeling and Form
19. Anne Sexton, Letter Written on a Ferry
20. John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale
21. Paul Muldoon, Making the Move
22. Rainer Maria Rilke, Blue Hydrangeas
23. John Ashbery, Life as a Book That Has Been Put Down
24. Leslie Marmon Silko, Long time Ago
25. Pablo Neruda, Swan Lake, translation by Ben Belitt
26. Yusef Kounyakaa, Crossing a City Highway
27. Margarita Engle, More Dangerous Air
METHOD: A dear friend suggested writing an abecedarian cento. With no theme in mind, I began searching the index of a Norton anthology for lines beginning with A, B, and C, trying combinations until something felt narrative with interesting prosody. Those lines set the theme. The rest evolved line by line in order, each line requiring something specific, yet unknown, for the next. I expanded the search to every poetry book in my collection, ending with two Z lines, partly to balance the extra A of the title, but more for the added power and resolution of that closing line.
Pamela Joyce Shapiro is a cognitive psychologist intrigued by memory and language. She teaches psychology in Philadelphia and writes poetry to capture thoughts and moments otherwise forgotten. Her work has appeared in Poetry Breakfast, Better Than Starbucks, The Ekphrastic Review, and is forthcoming in SageWoman.