Poets Online Archive

"Men at Thirty" and "Men at Forty" , two poems by Donald Justice , served as models for this prompt in which we wrote a generalization poem, like Justice's two poems, to summarize an age. Not only men at 30 & 40, but women at 19 or 70, boys at 12, girls at 3...
Select any age and either gender. This might be as fertile a prompt for humor as for wisdom.

Interview with Donald Justice

i marked the day i turned sixteen
on the trunk of a sweet gum
tree out behind roscoe brown's
barn while his eighteen year old
daughter wanda looked on,
i carved our initials and the word love
as wide as the grin on both our faces
that day .
the yellow wheat straw still sticking
to the back of her summer dress
straw from old roscoe's barnloft,
manna  from heaven. it was
years later the barn fell down
from neglect,
lightning struck that old sweetgum.
it died a slow death
and wanda ran off with
a trucker from somewhere up north
but i've still got that little pocketknife
around here somewhere
if i could just find my glasses...

ray cutshaw



 I grade my papers,
 make appointments
 for a mammogram,
root canals and crowns,
take one son to hockey
and the others for new shoes.

Nearly forty, at night I read my sons
to sleep, inhale the clean, sharp
dampness of their showered hair and feel
the buzz of breathing in their backbones.

At nearly forty, if I need to dance I dance,
alone on my green carpet late at night,
the music pumped up not quite loud enough
to wake.   My bare feet shake up all the lamps.

Nearly forty, weekdays I should wake to worry
over lesson plans and laundry to be done, but our
last night is in my lungs, your lips and smoky breath--
last night still licks my fingertips, the ones that stroked
your crisp, white shirt and traced warm arms beneath.

At nearly forty, I'm making a poem out of the letters of
your name.  I'm looking up your Chinese astrology sign,
to see if it is even remotely compatible with mine.

Svea Barrett-Tarleton


Single and 50
I care no more
Men are just a waste
That's what friends are for

Crisis and 50
Some say this is the middle of my life
What have I done for myself
Besides being twice a wife

A child and 50
Where has the time gone
Everyone says something different
Do I have the experience to forget the wrong

Life and 50
I learn more everyday
My troubles are beginning
when will I have the time to say

"I lived, loved, and smiled at 50"

Carissa Harris



A six year old boy
knows full well,
the miracle of
a wriggly lizard tail,
and has learned
to unravel the mystery
of Potato Beetles
by September.
He understands
the moist,
simple language
of a puppy's lick,
and is able to
tickle the sky
with loose
flying shoe laces--
soaring high
on his "Airplane" Swing.
A six year old boy
can transform a bike
into a speedy
Red Fire Engine,
And knows to create
Super Sonic Sleds,
by tying sleeping bags
to cardboard boxes--
down the
Believing he
is invincible.
And a six
year old boy
knows exactly,
when to
put down the ball,
and hide his nose
in the fragrance
of a flower--
by the

Francisca  Scrivano

                For Selena at six months

Sitting on Grandpa's lap
your head resembling
one of those bobbling things
in rear car windows
you watch your sister
helping Grandma
with the dishes
hurrying from table
to dishwasher and back again.

You grab at sister's nose
when she takes your hand
and rock with laughter
as she chuckles in your face
then she is gone
to the dining room
upstairs    downstairs
to the living room
in search of BamBam.

You watch her sit on the bench
to write her name
she pencils Ayla and Mommy
Daddy and Selena
each with a stroke or two
in no particular direction
while you beam and say
DaDaDa with conviction.

Big sister can climb
into the highchair
put on her bib "by self"
she can open doors and drawers
turn on radio and TV
answer the phone
tell the caller "hang on"
while you watch
with swiveling neck
from your comfortable place
and file it all away for future use.

Ruth Zimmerman


Forgotten:  years 1,2,3,
in tottering memory.
At 5, I stood before a nun and spots
of sin in a bottle. Blackest
of venial and mortal guilt.
Age 8, I waited for Jesus to speak,
missaled and rosaryed, wafer
entoungued. Father with camera
snapped ribbons and lace,
I smiled for the debut of God's
little capture.  Confession of how
many times and with whom.  In my 13th
year, I sang like a cowgirl in choir,
stirring up grace for ambient souls.
At 21, I was combed into my ivory
gown, gliding the aisle of vows, forming
I do's under the blue and gold Lamb of God,
while congregates huffed in their hankies.
O promise me children, home, a husband's suitcase
and lawyer, a memory of rooms, rattles
and cakes. 34 candles perfect as daisies.
At 55, I dine on polished mahogany, sipping
Merlot, numbers piling in rooms.
Joanne Kelley

Boy at 14/ Man at 48

not so different.
Sitting with coffee
alone and falling
in love with her
because she is
beautiful behind
glasses and
because she is
impossibly close.
Buying a book
and spending
an entire day
writing ideas
and calling
them poems.
Wishing that time
falling back
one hour might
be enough time
to take back
what I said,
alter sixty
undo the ending
of a season.

Ken Ronkowitz


Girls at 16

Laughing and dancing and crushing on boys
Believing all the dreams they have
Their lives will be perfect, their husbands too
And of course it’s true…
They can do anything, that’s what they’re told

And whispering at night the secret confessions
only girls at slumber parties know about
one brave girl talks softer than the rest
“I don’t think my parents love each other best
and what if that happens to me?”

That could never happen to us
We’re strong, beautiful, untamable
We’re stubborn and smart and so
We’ll all find the perfect man I know
We’ll know right away

And they all go back to laughing
And talking of shoes and trivial things
Of course they have the time to sing
There are no worries and each girl there
Will find the perfect man and live the perfect life.

Julie Andrews