City Living

A Poem in Your Pocket, or Are You Happy to See Me?

Today is national "Poem in Your Pocket" day. The idea is you are supposed to memorize or carry around your favorite poem to share with anybody who will listen. Please post yours here! I know mine by heart, although I will admit the punctuation escapes me, as it was written by ee cummings. Here's the official phrasing:

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddyandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old baloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and


balloonMan whistles



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Mine's "Last Hill in a Vista" by Louise Bogan:

Come, let us tell the weeds in ditches
How we are poor, who once had riches,
And lie out in the sparse and sodden
Pastures that the cows have trodden,
The while an autumn night seals down
The comforts of the wooden town.

Come, let us counsel some cold stranger
How we sought safety, but loved danger.
So, with stiff walls about us, we
Chose this more fragile boundary:
Hills, where light poplars, the firm oak,
Loosen into a little smoke.

Sent by Laura Conaway, NPR | 10:22 AM | 4-17-2008

Because I love how much fun T.S. Eliot can be when writing about people who are no fun.


As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only accidental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty green iron table, saying: "If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden ..." I decided that if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I concentrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.

Sent by Maura | 11:11 AM | 4-17-2008

Many pocket-sized poems worth putting in your pocket are by William Stafford. This is my favorite:

"Ask Me"

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden, and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Sent by Jim Howard | 11:20 AM | 4-17-2008

I very much like the ending -- 'little smoke' -- in Laura's poem.

Sent by nathan d | 11:24 AM | 4-17-2008

Abou Ben Adhem
by James Henry Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,And saw, within the moonlight in his room,Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom, An angel writing in a book of gold: - Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, And to the Presence in the room he said "What writest thou?" - The vision raised its head, And with a look made of all sweet accord, Answered "The names of those who love the Lord." "And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said "I pray thee, then, Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night It came again with a great wakening light, And showed the names whom love of God had blessed, And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Sent by ajm | 11:26 AM | 4-17-2008

Mine is too long (in my opinion) to just put here. It's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot.

Sent by Sarah Lee | 11:31 AM | 4-17-2008

I like Shel Silverstein:

Oh what a day
Oh what a day
My baby brother ran away
And now my tuba will not play.
I'm eight years old and turning gray.
Oh what a day
Oh what a day

Sent by Tricia, NPR | 11:43 AM | 4-17-2008

@ Sarah Lee - yeah, that's my favorite too. It's the best.

Sent by Win Rosenfeld -- NPR | 11:55 AM | 4-17-2008

@Sarah Lee and Win--

After my best friend's father died when she was 16, we spent an evening sitting around turning "Prufrock" into a punk song. It came out pretty well. And somehow made things a little bit better.

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 12:13 PM | 4-17-2008

Well, my favorite poem is probably "Not Waving But Drowning" by Stevie Smith, but frankly, it's too nice a day to recite something so much of a downer. So instead, a bit of Ivor Cutler:

If your breasts are too big,
You will fall over.
Unless you wear a rucksack.

Sent by Stewart | 12:13 PM | 4-17-2008

The light shines softly on her fair white brow;
Her eyes behold with wonder all the world.
My gaze, entranc'd, does carefully mark how
Her lips purse thin with sorrow yet unfurl'd.
And yet I dare not seek the rose she hold aloft;
In seeking this bud's beauty's lost,
But rather let her petals soft unfold
And hope sweet pollen falls to me, when toss'd.
For while untasted, nectar holds allure-
The rose red sparkling dewdrops of her lips
Held sepulcher'd, yet vibrant and so pure-
Hold spakle only while remain'd unkiss'd.
The light shone softly on her fair white brow:
O were it I knew then what I know now.

Sent by Jay Parks | 12:18 PM | 4-17-2008

what a great day... i love the idea of carrying a poem in my pocket
Here's one from TuPac Shakur
The Power of a Smile
The power of a gun can kill
and the power of a Fire can Burn
The power of wind can chill
ad the power of the mind can learn
The power of anger can rage
inside until it tears u apart
But the Power of a Smile
especially yours can heal a frozen heart

Sent by Carla Rae Gerardino | 1:00 PM | 4-17-2008

It's been great fun reading other people's poems. I flushed all over at "hysteria."

Billy Collins is my favorite:


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 1:30 PM | 4-17-2008

I memorized this in 5th grade of Will L. Lee Elementary in Richmond, MI ... when dinosaurs still roamed that part of the state.

Daffodills by Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay.
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Go figure ...

Sent by David Hollis, Hamilton, NY | 1:58 PM | 4-17-2008

Don't know the titles, but these two are with me for life.

For memorable and full of punchlines, you can't beat Dorothy Parker:

By the time you swear you're his
Shivering and sighing
And he swears his passion is
Infinite, undying
Lady, make a note of this --
One of you is lying

Lesser known but also a hoot is Samuel Hoffenstein:

Your little hands
Your little feet
Your little mouth
Oh, God, how sweet

Your little nose
Your little ears
Your eyes that shed
Such little tears

Your little voice
So soft and kind
Your little soul
Your little mind.

Sent by Seth in Kansas | 3:17 PM | 4-17-2008

I've always loved this one by Paul Zimmer:

"An Enzyme Poem for Suzanne"

What a drag it must be for you!
I slog along, ignoring you like my heart beat.
I gurgle and mold like an old fruit cellar,
Then suddenly you'll walk through a door
And foam me up like an ancient cider in heat.
Then I'll fall all about you, blathering
With lost time, making you numb with words,
Wanting to mix our molecules, trying
To tell you of weeks in fifteen minutes.
Sometimes you must wonder what the hell
It is with Zimmer.
This is to tell you
That you are my enzymes, my yeast,
All the things that make my cork go pop.

Sent by Sansanee | 4:52 PM | 4-17-2008

The ever sardonic Dorothy Parker is always good for a poetic punch-line. One of the best is the last stanza of "One Perfect Rose." Say it with me:

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

Check out an illustration:

Sent by Sandra | 11:25 PM | 4-17-2008

My favorite:

Self Portrait as Gingerbread Girl
by Juliet Cook

How I long for a dress that flaps open;
don???t care if the clasps are mismatched.
If only I could escape this edible mess
of shams. Flimflam frosting that offers an illusion
of frilly frock. Who wouldn???t want to nibble my hem off,

eventually beheading me. Obliterate my squiggle
mouth with its creepy insinuation that I shall transform
black currants into electric currents. In spite of
my seemingly permanent bedragglement.
In spite of my peculiar unbuttonability.

If it was up to him I???d be preserved this way,
under plastic. Me in my speechless phase. A still life
of each stage of the strip tease leading up to his grand finale???
gleeful slice to the neck. No blood, but disconnection; but
I didn???t ask to be cut in the shape of a girl.

How I long to be abstract; imbued
with enough pepper to render me
ruined as a ginger snap; unable to be construed
as a girl. Oh the spicy misdeeds I???d devise
and implement if only these buttons were real.

Sent by suzanne grazyna | 2:12 AM | 4-18-2008

One of my perennial favorites is a poem about poetry and beer, A.E. Housman's "Terence this is stupid stuff."

There are two voices in the poem, the first begins by admonishing Terence for his bad, melancholy poetry. He argues that drinking is a better way to deal with life than poetry. Terence replies that poetry is a better tonic, that it works like building up a tolerance to poison, and will serve one better in the long run.

I only quote the second stanza, told from the first voice, in which the argument for beer is set forth:

Why, if ???tis dancing you would be,
There???s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God???s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale???s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world???s not.
And faith, ???tis pleasant till ???tis past:
The mischief is that ???twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I???ve lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Read the whole poem here

Sent by erin kasprzak | 11:03 AM | 4-18-2008

this is mine. i find it intriguing in a luscious, sensuous, guilt-ridden, hedonistic kinda way. alison, because of you, BPP is my guilty pleasure during my work day....pierre.

This Is Just To Say
by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast.

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold.

Sent by pierre | 12:38 PM | 4-18-2008

This poem by Martha Collins always stops me in my tracks, just as it did when I first heard it on Weekend Edition on NPR in 2004:


Snow will fall from the sky
Snow will turn to rain
Rain will fill our streams
The earth will turn again

Snow will turn to rain
Blossoms will fill the trees
The earth will turn again
Petals will fill the air

Blossoms will fill the trees
Petals will fall like snow
Petals will fill the air
Green will fill the trees

Petals will fall like snow
Petals will fall to earth
Green will fill the trees
Where air was, leaves will be

Petals will fall to earth
Leaves will fall from trees
Where air was, leaves will be
Leaves, where there was snow

Leaves will fall from trees
Colors will brighten the air
Leaves, where there was snow
Leaves will fall to earth

Colors will brighten the air
Like hair and blood and skin
Leaves will fall to earth
Where we will fall from our lives

Like hair and blood and skin
Leaves will turn to earth
Where we will fall from our lives
Where we were, air will be

Leaves will turn to earth
Rain will fill our streams
Where we were, air will be
Snow will fall from the sky

Sent by John Tynan | 1:14 PM | 4-18-2008

Pocket Poem by Ted Kooser

If this comes creased and creased again and soiled as if I'd opened it a thousand times
to see if what I'd written here was right,
it's all because I looked too long for you to put in your pocket.
Midnight says the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped by nervous fingers.
What I wanted this to say was that I want to be so close that when you find it,it is warm from me.

Sent by pow4u | 7:15 PM | 4-20-2008

here's an old favorite of mine from the most romantic political poet of the 20th century, pablo neruda

in your silence by Pablo Neruda
in your silence: it is as though you were gone,
and you hear me from far away and my voice does not touch you.
It seems as though your eyes had flown away
and it seems that my kiss had sealed your mouth.

as my soul is filled with love
you emerge from your refuge filled with love.
You are like my soul, a butterfly of dreams,
and you are like the word "melancholia".

in your stillness you seem far away.
It sounds as though you were lamenting, a butterfly cooing like a dove.
and you hear me from far away, and my voice does not reach you:
let me come to be still in your silence.

And let me talk to you with your silence
that is bright as a lamp, simple as a ring.
You are like the night, with its stillness and constellations.
Your silence is that of a star, as remote and candid.

your silence : it is as though you were absent,
distant and full of sorrow as though you had died.
One word then, one smile, is enough.
And I am happy, happy that it??s not true.

Sent by pablo | 10:46 AM | 4-28-2008