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Broken Things

December 2016

Things break. Usually, we try to fix them, or find someone else who can fix them for us.

Today, we often hear that things are more disposable. "Planned obsolescence" is a phrase that goes back to the 1930s. It describes a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing. This is achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of non-durable materials. In the more than 70 years since the concept was introduced, that idea has moved from automobiles, television sets, phones and other hard goods to much softer ones. People discuss how things like relationships and marriage have become disposable.

In Yusef Komunyakaa's poem "The God Of Broken Things," he tells us of a very human "god" who can fix just about anything you bring into his junk shop.

He's in a lopsided heaven at Maggie's Junk Shop.
Objects of wood, iron, ivory,
Of veneer, lead, stone, glass, flimsy
Cardboard, of tin, brass, bronze...

He could go on forever fixing
Cracks, fissures, dents, fractures,
Rasping & gluing together what is
Unheard-of with what can never be

All of these very real things that range from "Objets d'art to "bric-a-brac" can be mended in some way. The poet says that they are "Broken or hurt beneath the architecture / Of planned obsolescence."

In Komunyakaa's collection Talking Dirty to the Gods, he gives us 132 poems of 16 lines and, like sonnets, there is a formalism to the poems and they include many allusions to mythology and religion. Besides “The God of Broken Things,” there is a “The God of Variables” and “The Goddess of Quotas.”

Some poets find beauty in broken things.  In her poem "Broken Things,"  Sara Teasdale writes:

Broken things are loveliest,
            Broken clouds when dusk is red,    
Broken waves where a rainbow rides,            
            Broken words left half unsaid.    
Broken things, broken things—            
            How quietly they comfort me,    
Riven cliffs, where I can watch            
            The broken beauty of the sea. 

In Alice Walker's poem "I Will Keep Broken Things," she wants to save everything, broken or not.

But in his "Ode To Broken Things," Pablo Neruda suggests letting all the broken things go.

Let's put all our treasures together
-- the clocks, plates, cups cracked by the cold --
into a sack and carry them 
to the sea 

So many useless things
which nobody broke
but which got broken anyway

None of these poets talk about broken hearts, broken relationships, broken homes, broken promises or broken lives, but we know that many things break and are much harder to repair than all those objects.

This month,we are writing poems about broken things and about our attempts to repair them. From Neruda, we will use his poem as as a thematic model, and from Yusef Komunyakaa we will borrow a short, controlled form for our poems: 16 lines in four quatrains. You may also want to meter the stresses, words or syllables to maintain line lengths - in his poem he uses mostly four stresses per line.

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


One hurt person
hurts three people.
That’s one hurt person cubed,
each now an exponent

of hurt, a conscript
turned recruiter,
the power of hurt
written across his

psyche & his T-shirt.
Do the math: the numbers
are staggering while
marching in perfect

formation, a military
band accompanying
this unbroken line of
brokenness to infinity.

Paul Hostovsky


Dreaming of Whale Bone Bay
tells me I will meet my fate in green.

Not in the blue water of the deep,
but here, mouthing a scream from childhood
dreamt but no less real.

A mouth full of water,
sinking to mossy coral-shelved pools
teeming with life unlike ours
and better for it.

A beam of broken light from St. David's Head.
Tidal voices calling me to the green.
An unresolved life that never rhymed.

Lianna Wright


I wake to a day slow to break –
and a brokenness I can't shake
off. Too many pieces, maybe,
rattling around inside my head,

and my heart: bits of poetry,
my younger brother’s Yuletide son.
Maybe I just need to channel
more Chaplin’s Tramp, and less Zeppo.

My “inner city” resembles,
too much, the streets of Aleppo –
Enough! I'm – now – letting it go;
exhaling EVERY emotion,

and breathing in the spirit of
the season. I'm alive, now, and
whole, and unbroken. And …happy.
And for that, I need no reason.

Jethro McClellan


The world is full of broken things
(Things misshapen, twisted, chipped)
That served their maker’s will, bent
To his hand, fulfilled his aim, and then

Were laid aside to sag and wilt.
Left forgotten on a bench or stool
Where time pursued its normal ends
And worked its will, caused decay.

Rust and rot became their gloss,
Rough commentary on their lives,
And so, forgotten by their lord,
They flaked away, ashes and dust.

In corners large and small they hide,
In spaces dark and damp, in nooks
Where no god abides they rest
And wait, until they’re found again.

Robert Miller


There are some broken things in this room.
Things that in the shadows, threateningly loom.
Children, toys, glass, a heart.
Some things are stopped before they can start.

Some things have no healing, no life to be awoken.
Some things are gladder if they remain broken.
Men made heaven, and so things have their dance.
Leave not their joy in the end, to chance.

These things have been mended, and some mended well.
But in this room are tales that broken things can tell.
Souls were not made to be mended by hands.
Once broken, they lie in the shifting of sands.

And so the dust lies on these broken things;
Once perhaps, the legacy of they who were kings.
Say not, that in the end, no time is left to give.
Broken today are those things that have no life to live.

Ribhav Thakur


On flaming nights and twisted days
soldiers burning up the fields
crops and staples no more yield
washing into smirking haze

Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons
lost each other in the thunder
Libraries, schools, and temples plundered
All were bullets in the guns

Flight by sea a chance for hope
a choice twixt love or life instead
Gold would pay the price per head
for those who would escape the rope

Now so few left to look back
Our land, our love no longer black
We can return, but do we care?
Peace and freedom? Do we dare?

R. Bremner


To grow old needs courage
There are going to be losses
One learns to limit rage
And say a body bears crosses

Life a doggerel poem
With the listing of body parts
In a rocking chair at home
Becoming expert in medical arts.

Ordinary skills break down
As you discuss with friends
How Scotch malt goes down:
What a nice way a story ends.

Cardiac Arterial Bypass Graft
Nicknamed Cabbage
Is a beginning life raft
For a body’s closing stage

No longer is there a wrist pulse
When the right radial artery goes
There there is no impulse,
Gone, somewhere. no one knows.

When you reach out to my wrist
And feel nothing, it, does not mean
I do not exist
Or that I am serene.

I am present,
I still try to reach out to you,
But it was surgeon’s intent
To level the bent to the true.

I had hopes to be stronger;
With good reasons to last longer

Yet I think readers of my verse
Would like something less terse
Not a double rainbow in the sky
Only one that stops on high.

Edward Halperin

(Rubicon Trail, High Sierra)

The whole landscape’s broken –
uplift and fractured stone. Land
of broken axles, quick fixes
to get your rig back on its wheels.

You come once a summer to make
yourself whole under sky. Little
Sluice juniper reaching tree-
arms in blessing on a rock ridge –

a human heart-stop on torturous
trail. You’d rest under uplift arms.
This year it’s gone. Fallen
under too many winters’ snows

when no one was there to see
or hear so high above timber-
line, to help. It was so ancient.
But only God can fix a tree.

Taylor Graham


The things we want to keep, we often lose
only to find them later, underfoot -
the cracking of lost glasses on the floor,
ground to dust under the heel of a boot.

The tangled unmade sheets will masquerade
as holy ground, when in reality
they keep our missing treasures in their folds
like hidden roots of some unholy tree

And the lost things turn into broken things -
One careless, misplaced, solid, heavy step
Leads to the mass destruction of the goods
we thought we’d lost to time - but hadn’t yet.

What do we make of these, our broken things,
the incidental shrapnel we create?
Do we survey the land we desecrate?
Can we forgive ourselves our body weight?

Michelle Lesniak


I had a snow globe as a child
A very small thing - not even round
It played no music it; it made no sound
A perfect toy for the timid and mild

A little scene under an eternal night sky
Just an angel and deer standing under the glow
of an imagined forest filled deep with snow
Where everything lived and nothing died

After many winters, it succumbed to a leak
An inside job? Perhaps they’d had enough
Time and solitude can get pretty rough
I tried to fix it but resurrection proved bleak

“Magic” tape and “super” glue couldn’t stem the trickling sea
Tiny glitter and plastic flakes no longer swirled and spun
Still, my angel would never fly; my deer would never run
So I released them; set them free – retro stars on my Christmas tree

Terri J. Guttilla


A small twig snaps off the branch on an
elm tree standing in these winter woods.
It slides passed her cheek, grazes her
hand as it comes to rest on the forest floor.

No wind, no sound, not even a rustle of
leaves this late, December afternoon.
Ominous skies capture the stillness,
wrap around her like a cloak

The last strands of light flicker through
the open spaces in the forest,
fill the broken places with promise,
beckon starlit skies and moonbeams.

She treads lightly under the
evergreen canopy. An elliptical
soliloquy swirls inside her head
quells all wounds in its path.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello