Poets Online Archive
The Conversation of Couples
January 2008

The newest poetry collection from Robert Hass, Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005, is his first to appear in a decade. In some ways the poems are familiar. There are some set in his California. He addresses art and literature, nature, desire, history and historic figures, and domestic life. There are bits of conversations.

But I also read more poems in this collection about memory and the failure of memory, or perhaps the failure of language to describe the passage of time. At times the poems' forms seem broken.

Such is the case with his "Futures in Lilacs"  that we looked at for this prompt, as in these concluding lines:

He was in love with a trolley conductor
In the summer of--what was it?—1867? 1868?

The book's title has a date range such as we might find on a "selected poems" and the idea of "materials" suggests the things we build our poem from that we have collected over time. I have heard Hass read some of these poems over the last 10 years, and the book seems to me to be a kind of selected poems.

I know that Hass has done readings with his wife, Brenda Hillman. I don't believe I have heard them read together, though I have heard both of them at Dodge Poetry Festivals. For this prompt, I have paired two of their poems.

I chose Brenda  Hillman's "Male Nipples" from an older book of hers called Loose Sugar. I am imagining that the "she" of Hass 'poem is Brenda, and that the man in her poem is Robert - though it doesn't really matter if I am wrong about that.

I like that both these poems have in them some of the erotic conversation of couples. Those conversations (not always with words) exist within a real world, and along with the connections we make to both the past and the world around them.

For this prompt, work with the materials of a couple's conversation, and have it exist within a frame of both the past and present.

There's more about this prompt and the opportunity to post your own comments on the Poets Online Blog.



"Tus Ojos Me Estan Mirando." Remember
how I wooed you in foreign language
with cheap Spanish wine from a bota
lifted high, the crisp silver stream
cascading into your open mouth.
And then you’d court me with ancient
English song, a tang on the tongue.
"Drink to me only with thine eyes."
Today a doctor peers into your pupils,
and beyond, your eyes still blue
as a mountain tarn. The pressure’s
too high. We could have told him,
you and I. What does medicine know
of your vision? or of mine?
Two aging lovers will follow their
melodic line into the gloaming,
and the dark. "Come along, come
along, let us woo the dust
together." Open your hand then,
take mine.

Taylor Graham

"A coffeehouse is a place for people who want to be alone
but need company for it." Alfred Polgar

Your inner child?
I'm glad I'm sitting here looking at her face and that I can't see his face.

Who ARE you?
They have a problem, like a star that was there all day, only noticed at night

You don't think we are totally out of tune?
The dry air crackles, electricity, sparks, pain that needs to be grounded

There's no answer to the question what. Ask me why or how.
Her breath fast, her breasts, her spring motion, the waving of trees with new green leaves

I don't know if I can go through all that again. Can you?
She wets her finger and uses it to pick up cookie crumbs, look this way, lick your finger.

What's this? A rehearsal?
The three of us in a scene.
I'm waiting for my cue.

Charles Michaels


It is said that Mrs Blake said,
"If you are looking for William
Go the garden behind the house,
He is there talking to angels."

While Juliette, Hugo’s long love,
"Oh Victor you still desire me
And I thought it was linden flower tea,".
She laughs, "you wanted."

You can take any line of Elizabeth Barrett
Even if it is too sweet
In bitter times
It talks of loves defiance and hope..

My choices were poor
Few compliments
They were bitter teachers
In cold schools on dark winter mornings.

One thought herself
As writing of her mother’s love,
Her pride in making her, 'so cool,'
Like a white refrigerator
A Kenmore in a Sears window.

"You like ballet
Isn’t it a faggy thing...
And the corps de ballet
So lily white
The tickets are too close
You have cut their points and toes.

One wrote this is my haiku.
St Joseph is my favored saint
He pays the bills that God forgot.

And if you call me a shrew
Just wait as I execute
My destiny
To dig within the earth for bones.

But I still come back to choices;
Ones family's Sunday Chinese suppers
With one from column A
Or one from Column B
Or the never ordered A la Carte.
With Szechwan pepper
To tinkle and paralyze the tongue.

Edward N. Halperin


He told her
He stopped sleeping when he met her
Eyes closed, her image still danced before him
Danced and called him and he had to know
Had to know her

He told her
In her eyes was a mystery he never tired of observing
Stroking her soft skin he found his solace, the quiet
Harmony of the heart's full music
Playing for them both

She told him
There will be a day for us
When your fingers again will be entwined in mine

He told her

She told him
The leaves are falling slowly
Winter comes, see the frozen webs
I am cold, I am sinking inwards

She told him
You are an empty shadow in the quiet of my mind

Janna Hastings


“You’d rather be sitting on a deck chair in the Caribbean doing your nails
And—whatever you do when you do your nails”
Not really, I’d rather be lying seconds away from you on the deck
So static electricity moves the
Hair on our arms and our breath is in sync.”

A little anxiously I propose—
Smiling he offers the next step—
“The sun is burning us up.
Let’s go below deck.”

“Gentle, gentle kisses on your inner arm.
Oh what a beautiful breast.”
“We must give them equal treatment.”
“Let me make sure you have all your ribs. One, two….”
“Soft kisses around your belly button. Will we find the hole?”


Will you ever learn to stop trying to make me feel guilty?
I couldn’t know you couldn’t get a taxi after you left me at the party.

What an e-mail!
He must be out of his head.
I had no intention of making him feel guilty.
I just told him; at three in the morning I could only get home by subway.
My brother agrees. Something else must be behind that note.

Yes, we had lunch the following Saturday
When he gave me a lovely CD of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos,
and an offer of one month’s subscription to JDate.
Is there a message here?
When I told my cousin she burst out laughing, too.


I hear my lover tripping down the stairs
And wonder what words of love he will emit
In his mellifluous voice.
Should I advise him that actions speak louder than words?

Ellen Kaplan


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