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For the speaker of the poem THE BIRTH OF ANGELS by Stephen Dobyns, death comes like smoke; old age comes like a leaf falling/plummeting and then the feeling like a fluttering and a thrashing of wings. For this prompt, choose an event or moment - not necessarily death or old age - and describe how it feels for it to be approaching.

Books by Stephen Dobyns include: Best Words, Best Order : Essays on Poetry
The Church of Dead Girls (a novel)
Velocities : New and Selected Poems 1966-1992

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


I can't stop it, although
you want
to keep me locked in your ribs,

not give another thing to be taken.
This one is yours,
the beating, contract of muscle.

Floating in your river, dividing
this protean choir,
we pull apart, the rope firm

around my neck. Enter the struggle
of air, in a clean box.
Did you hear me? The kestrel's cry?

These hard days, I lie at your
feet five days.
You know I am a separate thing,

rising on the water's clean breast.
We unwind
the thick growth of tongue to throat,

untangle the clot of our voices.

The house is quiet.
The clock,
the gas, the lamp.

You turn me to your scar
tease your heart
under my lung. Your hand finds an opening.

It is not enough
to stop this stretch of cell.

Joanne Kelley


we live in the thrum of potential energy
pendulums about to swing
shoes on the verge of dropping
match heads bound up
with the dry force of fire within them

inertia smothers hours
entropy drowns the days

and nights--oh nights erupt
in kinesthetic dreams
fireballs and springs
stretched near to snapping
maddening volleys of vectors
flung at every resting plane

we wake to half-remembered violence
breathe through motionless days
aware perhaps of a slight and tickling nausea
the weight and pull of the wrecking ball
inside us

R.G. Evans


Walking the labyrinth, I am in an unfolding circle far from the energy center.
It is kinhin, walking meditation, part of my therapy back into the world.
Each day I walk a bit further.

(You could walk the entire circle in a few handfuls of minutes.
Once I could too.)

I have no where to go and this becomes home, these steps towards the center,
not the center, but each footfall has the feel of that old place
that I will never return to.

(That is part of why you must continue to walk, he says.
Because you are still seeking that old home.)

Last night I dreamt that I was running the path, flying over stones, at peace
with the freedom of nothing, no thing, the center was cool white,
my skin was wet, in emptiness there is no form, no suffering,
no cause of suffering, no extinguishing, no path.
Waking, I begin to cry, fearing the approaching center.

Lianna Wright



I've always pictured death
like this: the lover
brute who won't take
no for an answer, who no
matter how many languages
you speak, speaks
in his own.
He's whispering
oh baby he's whispering
don't stop, and swelling
inside you, and you
can't stop yourself, you
can't wait, and you cry
I'm coming now, and
you do, without remorse,
and hard.

Mary DeBow


You want it, but you don’t
because having it means it’s been had,
means it’s ending. It’s a conclusion
from its very beginning, so you try
to stave it off, wanting it all the more,
and it takes all your concentration,
all the control you can muster
to keep yourself at the point just before.
There is no other thought, there is nothing
else in the world. Later on you will marvel
at how you disappeared, but this is where
it gets tricky because you can’t stay there.
No matter how many times you try,
it doesn’t work. You rush to greet it,
forgetting that moments ago you swore
you had it this time, that you could hold on,
that you could live forever.

Lily Hayashi


Bernie had a hole in his belly
as big as your head
for a minute
Carole Anne
had the sweetest lips
the longest legs
and the driest thirst
for Cuervo
as she slipped
into darkness
like Bernie
but slower

It's gonna be
hotter than hell
colder than
hell tonight

Ron Lavalette

Here I lie
as all I's must.
When I died
the world did end
for me;
as when you do,
the world will end
for you.
when all is but unconscious dust,
surely God will also die.


dare we cope with hope?
Can we pretend
to something more?
Perhaps another dusty shore
where we could try

Could we be trusted
to extend that beach
to reach
the Just?


wouldn't lust
ride us once again
Until we bit another dust?

Catherine M. LeGault



i can not bear it,
this .
what i have seen
with these, my own eyes
tell me dear, that i'm just a foolish old man
prone to imagination,
finding evil behind every shadow.
for these ears of mine
were not meant to hear such news
and my heart would surely break
let me then, sit quietly here by the window,
and pretend that it is our sweet becky that i see running now
through yonder meadow towards
her golden hair still tied round
with the ribbon you gave her when she left that day for new york.
and not the neighbor's daughter,
bringing news of death.
for my eyes refuse to see the truth
and these ears of mine were not meant
to hear such, which you ask me now to believe.
my heart could not take the words no matter how softly spoken.
let me then, if i may, sit quietly here by the window
for just a little while longer

ray cutshaw