“A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give – yes or no, or maybe—
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.


“A Ritual to Read to Each Other” by William Stafford, from The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems © Graywolf Press.


(With a grateful nod to long-time reader “Strumsky” who has mentioned this as a favorite poem in comments past; I didn’t forget. ❤  A poignant poem for a world that seems to be “lost in the dark.” One of my favorites. ~Christy)


“Breakfast Song” by Elizabeth Bishop (Reader Recommended)

My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue.
I kiss your funny face,
your coffee-flavored mouth.
Last night I slept with you.
Today I love you so
how can I bear to go
(as soon I must, I know)
to bed with ugly death
in that cold, filthy place,
to sleep there without you,
without the easy breath
and nightlong, limblong warmth
I’ve grown accustomed to?
—Nobody wants to die;
tell me it is a lie!
But no, I know it’s true.
It’s just the common case;
there’s nothing one can do.
My love, my saving grace,
your eyes are awfully blue
early and instant blue.


“Breakfast Song” by Elizabeth Bishop, from Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Reader Recommended: My heartfelt thanks to reader Usha S. who offered Bishop’s poem as a personal favorite. Usha was grateful for the Good News poem by Thich Nhat Hanh “especially after the last few days/weeks of horror around the world and the feeding of fear.” Usha was referring to the Paris bombings, but sadly, could be referring to any day as of late.

Poetry offers us a slant of light in a dark world. To quote Bukowski, “it may not be much light but / it beats the darkness.” Keep shining, Christy

“Convenience Stores” by Buddy Wakefield (Reader Favorite)

We both know the smell of a convenience store at 4 a.m. like the backs
of alotta hands.
She sells me trucker crack/Mini-Thins (it’s like Vivarin).
She doesn’t make me feel awkward about it.
She can tell it’s been a long drive and it’s only gonna get longer.
Offers me a free cup of coffee, but I never touch the stuff.
Besides, I’m gonna need more speed than that.

We notice each other’s smiles immediately.
It’s our favorite thing for people to notice—our smiles.
It’s all either one of us has to offer.
You can see it in the way our cheeks stretch out like arms
wanting nothing more than to say, “You are welcome here.”

shows brittle nicotine teeth with spaces between each one.
Her fingers are bony, there’s no rings on’m, and she’d love to get’er nails
done someday.
One time she had’er hair fixed.
They took out the grease, made it real big on top, and feathered it.
She likes it like that.
She’ll never be fully informed on some things just like I will never understand
who really buys Moon Pies, or those rolling, wrinkled, dried-up sausages.
But then again, she’s been here a lot longer than me.
She’s seen everything
from men who grow dread locks out of their top lips
to children who look like cigarettes.

I give’er my money.
I wait for my change.
But I feel like there’s something more happening here.

I feel—
like a warm mop bucket and dingy tiles that’ll never come clean.
I feel like these freezers cannot be re-stocked often enough.
I feel like trash cans of candy wrappers
with soda pop dripping down the wrong side of the plastic.
I feel like everything just got computerized.
I feel like she was raised to say a LOT of stupid things about a color.
And I feel like if I were to identify myself as gay—
this conversation would stop.

It’s what I do.
I feel.
I get scared sometimes.
And I drive.

…But in 1 minute and 48 seconds I’m gonna walk outta here with a full tank of
gas, a bottle of Mini-Thins, and a pint of milk while there’s a woman still
trapped behind a formican counter somewhere in North Dakota who says she
wants nothing more than to hear my whole story, all 92,775 miles of it.

I can feel it though, y’all, she’s heard more opinions and trucker small talk than
Santa Claus has made kids happy, so I only find the nerve to tell’er the good
parts, that she’s the kindest thing to happen since Burlington, VT, and I wanna
leave it at that because men—who are not smart—have taken it farther, have
cradled her up like a nutcracker and made her feel as warm as a high school education
on the dusty back road, or a beer, in a coozy.

I feel like she’s been waiting here a long time for the one who’ll come 2-steppin’
through that door on 18 wheels without makin’er feel like it’s her job to
sweep up the nutshells alone when she’s done been cracked again, who won’t
tempt her to suck the wedding ring off his dick, but will show her— simply—

She doesn’t need me or any other man but she doesn’t know that either, and I’m
just hopin’ like crazy she doesn’t think I’m the one because the only time I’ll
ever see North Dakota again is in a Van Morrison song late (LATE) at night, I

Y’all, I feel like she’s 37 years old wearing 51 (badly), dying inside (like certain
kinds of dances around fires) to speak through you, a forest, if you weren’t so
taken with sparks.

But she was never given those words.
She has not been told she can definitely change the world.
She knows some folks do
but not in convenience stores
and NOT with lottery tickets
I finally ask’er what I’ve been feelin’ the entire time I’ve been standin’ there

gettin’ scared like I do sometimes
really (REALLY) ready to drive
I ask,

“Is this it for you?
Is this all you’ll ever do?”

Her smile

That tightly strapped-in pasty skin
went loose.

Her heart
fell crooked.

She said (not knowin’ my real name),
“I can tell, buddy, by the Mini Thins and the way ya drive—

we’re both taken with novelty.

We’ve both believed in mean gods.

We both spend our money on things that break too easily like…


And I can tell
you think you’ve had it rough
so especially you should know…

It’s what I do,
I dream.
I get high sometimes.
And I’m gonna roll outta here one day.

I just might not get to drive.”

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007
Tribute to Slam Poetry

To learn more about Buddy, visit his website; view his anthology on Amazon; listen to his spoken work on Spotify.


READER FAVORITE: Many thanks to James Rice who mentioned this as a favorite poem from the Words archives (we ran it here in July 2015; though it was originally published at Rattle Magazine, linked above.) James enjoys sharing poetry with his family and friends and said, “Poetry is a light that shines onto something deeper that adds to our inner lives.”

So true, James, so true. Keep shining and keep sharing. Love, Christy

“Snow, Aldo” by Kate DiCamillo

Once, I was in New York,
in Central Park, and I saw
an old man in a black overcoat walking
a black dog. This was springtime
and the trees were still
bare and the sky was
gray and low and it began, suddenly,
to snow:
big fat flakes
that twirled and landed on the
black of the man’s overcoat and
the black dog’s fur. The dog
lifted his face and stared
up at the sky. The man looked
up, too. “Snow, Aldo,” he said to the dog,
“snow.” And he laughed.
The dog looked
at him and wagged his tail.

If I was in charge of making
snow globes, this is what I would put inside:
the old man in the black overcoat,
the black dog,
two friends with their faces turned up to the sky
as if they were receiving a blessing,
as if they were being blessed together
by something
as simple as snow
in March.

“Snow, Aldo” by Kate DiCamillo. © Kate DiCamillo.


Reader (and Editor) Favorite:

This is both a favorite poem of mine and my friend Archita. I’ve shared it here on March 18, 2015 and in a dog-themed anthology on Words for the Weekend on March 22, 2014.

I share it again in memory of my sweet Spotted girl.

Spot (2/11/06 - 3/17/14)
Spot (2/11/06 – 3/17/14)

“Three Times My Life Has Opened” by Jane Hirshfield (Reader Favorite)

Three times my life has opened.
Once, into darkness and rain.
Once, into what the body carries at all times within it and
starts to remember each time it enters the act of love.
Once, to the fire that holds all.
These three were not different.
You will recognize what I am saying or you will not.
But outside my window all day a maple has stepped
from her leaves like a woman in love with winter, dropping
the colored silks.
Neither are we different in what we know.
There is a door. It opens. Then it is closed. But a slip of
light stays, like a scrap of unreadable paper left on the floor,
or the one red leaf the snow releases in March.

– Jane Hirshfield, from The Lives of the Heart: Poems



Many thanks to Archita for offering this as a favorite poem that we have previously shared on Words for the Year (on December 28, 2014). Archita shares her thoughts, poetry and photography at A Journey Called Life.