Poets Online Archive
Words Confused

Li-Young Lee's long and complex poem " Persimmons " (from Rose ) is a set of associations with a single word. Beginning with two seemingly unconnected words he confused as a boy (persimmons & precision), the poem slowly brings those words together. In most of these associations the connections are literal, apparent - a sixth grade class where one was displayed, fruits eaten in childhood. One association - a lover - is not so apparent. The poem turns when we encounter his father, whose words end the poem and return the reader to the two beginning words, now connected.

Begin your writing with two words. Words that are seemingly unconnected. They might be words you once confused. They might be words that you love because of their sounds. Perhaps, they look alike. This prompt will work best if you choose words that interest you AND if you do NOT already have some connection between the two words formed in your mind. The exercise is to free associate with one of the words until you arrive at the other. You might try prewriting by listing everything you think of with those words, and then look for a connection in the list.

Freud: Free Association & Writing


I loved the sound of both before I knew what either meant.
I'm still not sure I know exactly what obsidian is,
beyond its color and a day my father showed us a rock
that looked like black glass. He turned the shard in his
thin hands, in the sun, so we could see. "Obsidian,"
he said, "don't touch the edge, it's shattered, it will
slice you." It was the darkest, darkest thing.
I could not see through it. I had to reach for it and bleed.

There is a man I loved who also loves the word obsidian.
We had other favorite words together, like the time I
wrote him that my son and I watched grackles pick at the
edges of the snow. "I love the word 'grackle'", he wrote,
and this was sweet. When he first said he loved the word
'obsidian' I thought he said 'oblivion'. That was months
before he fled my dark life and edged back into his own.

My oldest son always wanted it darker, his dreams disturbed
by too much light. No nightlights, just room darkening shades,
a towel against the crack of light beneath his door, he'd have no
shadows to shatter his obsidian dreams, he needed the kind of dark
he could not see through to the spiders that crawled from a hole in
the edge of his ceiling, the faces with no mouths, fingerless hands.

Like the kind of darkness I wanted with you-- obsidian night-
so sharply dark we'd have to use our hands and skin to see.
There were words between us, darkly beautiful words, but
always I dreamed of more touch--your hair against my neck,
teeth testing soft edges of shoulders, arms resting on backs-
the perfect oblivion of darkness -- obsidian erasing inhibition.

Didn't you want it too, my love, my unlover, the one
with whom I spoke of love but kissed only twice?

Svea Barrett-Tarleton


she changes with each season
yet remains the same somehow.
year after year, this my mother earth,
in her dress of flowers, so finely arrayed
during the spring .
i can not say for sure which i love best,
the golden daffodils covering distant field
or the rose that blooms by the garden gate.
she is a thing of beauty my mother earth,
yet my gaze is not always upon her.
like  lovers grown too familiar
i seek that which i can not hold
nor touch.
that which does not crumble and slip through my fingers.
That yearns to hold my remains
close to the bosom, for eternity.
no, i am the wayward child
my gaze is elsewhere
to the heavens, the distant milky way
dancing and twirling across the cosmos
i long to spin and turn,
free from the weight of my soul
i am my mother's child
but more so i am stardust
and all that lies beyond the milky way
is mine
even if it be only a dream

ray cutshaw


Thirteen years old--
feeling worn and withered.
Mom is yelling
something about divorce
or maybe she's yelling
something about division.
I really can't remember.
Dad shoves his clothes in the back
of our Chevy Vega station wagon.
It used to smell so new....
He's standing beside me now.
My body hurts.
I want to faint
and flutter
far far away.
Dad holds my hand
and asks me to leave with him.
"You can come with me
and your brother can stay
with your mom."
Is this what division feels like?
Or is this what divorce feels like?
360 divided by 7 equals
Equals Infinity?
My head bursts, my heart rends--
Ripping sounds spill
down the hall
swelling their
severed bedroom.

D   i   v   o   r   c   e.

Francisca Scrivano


I thought it was the other word,
but instead it was medical.
The arm that no longer holds,
a foot that isn't there to stand,
the missing limb.
A tactile hallucination,
phantom pain,
nerve memories fired by -
what? -
longing, a word, a song,
someone's touch?
Not fornication at all,
although that always sounded
if not medical, at least clinical.
And why not say that it too
is fired by a word, a song,
someone's touch-
nerve memories
longing for what was once
attached and held and stood
and felt pain
like a finger in the flame.

Ken Ronkowitz


"You're confusing poetry and passion,"
he said referring to my poem.
It must be true.
I've heard it before.
I'm workshopping that part of my life.
So much of revision is cutting away,
simplifying, and selecting.
My passion may not be enough to carry it-
but even alone tonight I feel it might
be so.
You - come here.
Read my words.
Let me turn your thesaurus
inside out.

Pamela Milne



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