Poets Online Archive

All the leavings that occur in a lifetime can't be summed up in poem.  They happen suddenly and are also well planned. Some are temporary; some are not - or we have no idea of their permanence.  In Linda Pastan's poem, To a Daughter Leaving Home from Carnival Evening, we have an eight-year leaving on a bicycle ride.  She might have been leaving for college, or to be married.  The poem's art is to find the universal moment swirling inside a hundred other moments.

This particular poem is from an anthology of 180 contemporary poems, selected and introduced by Billy Collins.  Poetry 180 was his poem-a-day program with the Library of Congress. A 180-degree turn implies a turning back—in this case, to poetry - as well as the 180 days that high school students generally spend in a school year. Collins has said that the fear that adults have of poetry as adults "probably occurred in a classroom, where they were made to feel stupid by a teacher presenting a poem."  A sad thought (especially to a teacher like myself) but the anthology hopes to "infiltrate high schools with poetry."

Write a poem that concerns someone leaving - from either side - and let your moment swirl amongst the other moments. 


I am looking at this ship of pearl upon the shelf
once filled with more stately mansions than I will ever enter

as if I were the animal once within this shell,
living in the biggest front chamber

and all those sealed behind me
abandoned, but necessary to control buoyancy.

An almost golden ratio, a logarithmic spiral
for hovering the surface or living at great Pacific depths.

Little changed for 150 million years,
tentacles touch and taste the world.

My own imperfectly-chambered heart,
barely buoying me above the surface.

Outside my window a sunflower mandala
of infolding, unfolding, dynamic motion

and the tessellating hexagons of the beehives
and six-around-one daffodils.

I am soon to leave the shell, petals ready to fall,
a papery husk of patterns left on a page.

Charles Michaels


We had planned everything
Down to the last ‘e’
Or is it ‘t’?
Nothing else was questionable
Or in doubt.
His admission papers
The fees,
Even a new motorbike
Which he so desired
Synonymous with his freedom.

His clothes all packed
He was ready to go
A rider on his steed
Bidding goodbye with a smile
And a shake of his golden locks
Which he grew long
An indulgence of youth.

We were well prepared.
We turned away to stem
The tide waiting
To burst its banks.
I did not wish him to see me cry
Or wipe a tear from my husband’s eye.

Abha Iyengar 


“Goodbye” is a funny word.
Sometimes it comes with a promise of return:
“Au revoir.” “Auf Wiedersehen.” “Sayonara.”
“See you later.”
But your good bye to me was different--
An exercise suggesting good-bye:
Tentative, over time, never stated, and possibly not intended.
But if we part, it will be permanent--
The disappearance of a web site
Manned by thoughtful professionals I have only met on line.
An uncoupling, with much left unsaid
Leaving a hole in my heart for my electronic friends.

Ellen Kaplan


I kiss your nose when I first saw your tiny face.
I dressed you in pretty ribbons and fancy lace.
Your smile was worth all the gold in Fort Knox.
Even when you had the chicken pox.

Now you are leaving home it seems,
To follow your heart, your thoughts and your dreams.
I loved you when you were bad and I loved you when you were good.
This still is in effect and I hope this is understood.

Be all that you can be still my darling child.
Follow your heart and your dreams for a while.
When your dreams are filled and you have sailed the oceans sea.
Come back home to your Daddy and me!

Sybil Shearin


Let me not have good-bye
a hole in the donut's possession;
Or facing death
Think good-bye
Is a rainbow modern
Rothko color
As oil floating on wine vinegar
Something amorphous
Unshaken and untasted love.

Good-bye without prospect
Is the hard luck kid's
Destiny to push a cast iron
Lawn mower up
Because he likes heavy exercise.

In Brooklyn
The park was prospect
And its neighbor, Botanic Gardens.
There was a hill
One could roll down.
And there's a path
Up the steep hill
Inscribed with stones
Of those of Brooklyn
Who went for it
And said good-bye.

Edward Halperin


the scapegoat is weary
pasturing in the same meadow
the low blades of the grass
hurting its neck

tired of familiar skies
recurrent why's

contemplates seeking for permission
promising not to stray too far
out in the open

looking for that opulent star
looking for the company of other scapegoats

the thought of a holiday
can i slip away?

the stock of woes
has slimmed it down
right down to its toes

the temptation, overwhelming
"if only i had the thumbs up sign,
none of this was necessary"
the flesh is willing
the spirit is willing
will they find another scapegoat?

Kenneth Lobo


I waved to you
and thought it was to school
like every day for years and years
But no
how was this one
to never be again
to lose itself into the street
to blow
like wind away
with all the leaves of trees
and all the dance of laughter too
we knew
before the frown
that split our life in two
when you and mama disagreed
your latest friend
who seemed to take you down
a path your mother could not share
with you
it was unlike
what we had known before
how could I know that this would be

Catherine M. LeGault


i knew better
i just didn't want to tell you
i wanted to spare you the truth
i couldn't bear to see your heart bleed
and the truth can cut to the soul
quicker than the sharpest razor.
we both know that.
but now i'm leaving
after all the promises i made
soon i'll be gone
and you will be left behind to ask why.
it cannot be any other way.
it isn't my choice to make
life is without barter.
should i remain here long enough,
the day would come when you would go
and it would be me left behind to ask why
and the wind would not answer
but only whisper quietly over the gravestones,
such is life. such is life.

Ray Cutshaw


She left us
in a flurry of rain
we didn't know she was gone
until it was too late.
The gentle memory
fills my heart
of feeling her rolling
under my ribs.
The exquisite agony
of little kicks
and pressure on the bladder
at 2 a.m.
Never again to hold her
for she left us
without a goodbye
without a cry.
Never to teach her how to ride a bike
or take her to swim lessons.
All the things we'll never do
because she is gone.

Stephanie Marottek




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