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Out of Place

February 2015

This month we were looking to write about someone who is well known but in your poem that person is "out of place." Our model poem was "Shoveling Snow With Buddha" by Billy Collins.

I like that in Collins' poem the Buddha is out of place for multiple reasons. First, he is doing something and we are used to seeing him seated and meditative. We also usually find him depicted in a nice temperate setting, not in the snow. Of course, he is also out of place because he is out of time, dropped into our present from his past.

Besides the idea that he is helping shovel snow, he is also quite interested in hot chocolate and playing cards after the shoveling - two rewards for his work, not unlike a child's rewards for helping clear the snow.

He is more Buddha-like in his mindfulness of the work.

He has thrown himself into shoveling snow
as if it were the purpose of existence,
as if the sign of a perfect life were a clear driveway

Collins is no real life Buddhist, though he is mindful. But the poem touches on several ideas in Buddhism.
We often forget that the journey is the destination.
We want to be anywhere but in the now.

This prompt asks you to place a well-known person (living or dead, real or fictional) somewhere out of place. There is the suggestion of something absurd in this, although Emily Dickinson at Starbucks is not as odd as if you made her a Victoria's Secret runway model, so the choice is yours when it comes to absurdism.

For more on this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.


Matsuo Basho loved to lunch
at the Horn and Hardart Automat.
It was a lovely way to spend the
fifties and we often enjoyed
stringing haiku together there.

He showed me the best way to eat
macaroni and cheese with chopsticks.
I introduced him to apple pie and coffee.
He loved the revolving dessert bar.
We both hated the revolving door.

I miss him. He missed the flowers.
I miss his words.
He missed the birds.
I miss the chatter.
He missed the silence.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


She posts many times a day.
Often during the night and early morning.
Photos of spiders and flies on windowsills,
her garden seen through her bedroom window,
her new tulle dress, flowers in a simple vase.
No poems.
Anyone who requests to be her friend, she accepts,
but she never clicks the Like button.
She never comments.
She never responds to messages.
She joins no groups.
Every weekend she changes her cover photo:
leaves of trees and bushes, surfaces of water,
things seen so close up as to be abstract.
But her profile photo is always the same one.
Sometimes she does something to it in Photoshop -
a tint, a filter, sepia - but still, the same.

Pamela Milne


We’re the
Evil by
Though certainly
Not by choice

We have names
Even when in most
We don’t even
So thank you, Walt
At least you gave us
Supporting roles

Do you know
How hard it is
To be
One dimensional
You just can’t
With a blonde
Blue eyed beauty!

What do you know
About us?
We’re mean – check
One plays the flute – check
The other one sings – check
We both clearly lack musical skills – check – check

Stop for a moment
And think:
What would she be
Without us?
We pushed her
We instigated her
We bullied her
We MADE her

Without us
She wouldn’t be
The persecuted heroine
The pure,
Angelical victim
The role model
For young girls
Around the world

So you owe it to us
At least a sequel
A low budget spin off
We’d be down for a
Reality show as well

It’s our time
To shine now.
Juan Pablo Duboue


It’s still dark as the coffee I’ve just started.
As it perks, black cat Blink weaves purr around
my ankles, he wants more kibble in his dish.
Loki dashes out the front door
on business, then back-flash to her puppies,
who hum and mewl in the closet.
Old dog Cowboy rolls on his back for a tummy-
rub, four feet waving his idea of yoga-pose.
Sheep still bedded down, but dreaming
of gates opening to daylight pasture.
I pour myself a cup of coffee black as the songs
of creatures coming in from the dark.
And there’s a knock at the door.
I haven’t even turned the porch light on.
A stranger garbed in dark. It’s Francis. He must
be hungry too, wandering in poverty.
He nods thanks for a cup of brew, sits down
on the floor beside Cowboy. “Can you hear
what he’s telling you?” the old monk wonders.
Blink, ever misunderstood as cats are,
leaps on his shoulder, whispers in his ear.
“Your sheep,” he says,
“bid you meditation, rumination in your
language. Sit down. Forget carpet
and underlay, let Earth speak
and the words of that closet puppy-choir
guide your thoughts or whatever you
call them. No one talks of soul these days.
How shall we feed God’s creatures?
You know what poetry’s for.

Taylor Graham


Sir? I say, standing in the kitchen.
I've said it twice, trying not to startle him.
He scratches his armpit absentmindedly
in a t-shirt he hasn't taken off in three days.

I'm supposed to be taking him to speak at
the University's Physics Symposium,
but I can't get him off of my couch.

Mr. Einstein?

Hmmm? he replies, never taking his eyes off
the Cartoon Network, which he hasn't turned
off since the team from the Institute dropped
him here three days ago.

Sir, I hate to keep interrupting you, but
you're supposed to be speaking to your
colleagues about what you've learned while
you were dead.

Well, gone. Before they brought you back,
made you alive again.

Tell them everything they need to
know they can learn from watching
Phineas and Ferb.

I sit down on the couch, not letting him
see me with this stupid grin on my face.

That's great, Sir, but they're really going to
want to hear more about that from you.

A commercial for Crayola markers comes on
and the first spark of life enters his face and
he says to me, Those! I need those!

Now over two hours late to the Symposium,
he is coloring at the coffee table, laughing
at the antics of The Powderpuff Girls.

Did you know I had a daughter once?
he says to me without looking up
from his coloring.
She died.

He turns and looks me in the eyes.

I never got to know her.
and the not getting to know her
changed me more
than getting to know her
ever would have.
Even though getting to know her
would have changed me in ways
I could never understand.
I'm writing this for her.

I sit next to him,
in awe that Albert Einstein
is writing a children's book
in my family room
in his smelly t-shirt and
unwashed sweatpants.
He says he's going to call it
The New Theory of Relativity.

And I think, for the first time in my life,
I understand what this man is saying.

Anita Sanz


After delivering billions of toys
to millions of children
rumor has it that Santa Clause has retired.

His belly's grown even larger
from eating all those sugar-plums
and he can't go down the chimneys any more.

Even with Rudolph's good help,
Prancer and Dancer can't see well enough
to guide Santa's sleigh at night.

Those bundles of toys Santa's thrown
on his back have eventually led to braces.

Santa Clause has lived on the North Pole
for hundreds of years
writing letters to little children . . .

but recently he's been seen
hoping to meet some Grannies.

Bobbie Townsend


Yo! Ginsberg! Move that ball around!
Let’s have some infield practice!
Eddie, you come out for a minute. Billy Collins,
grab your glove and give Eddie a blow at shortstop!

Okay coach, here I am, what’s up?

Eddie, kid, wasn’t I a genius to stick Ginsberg
at first base? He’s a human vacuum cleaner
out there, and he just loves receiving throws!

Well, I thought he was better as a catcher, Coach.
But you gotta do something about Willie Carlos
Williams at the hot corner. He can’t handle bunts.

Yeah Eddie but he’s great with the stick.
When we played those guys from Newark, he was a
man possessed. Whaddya think about our outfield?

Why’s Pound out in right field, Coach? Didn’t we
have him penciled in for left?

Yeah, but he refused to play left, so I switched him.
Good thing Baraka was dying to play left. Anyway,
I wanted to speak to you about Artie at second base.
Something has to be done.

Aw Coach, he’s my best friend!

Yeah but yesterday he screwed everything up.
He picked up a hot grounder but instead of
throwing the guy out, he stared at the ball and said
“O Magnificent Orb, O Hide of Horse, Son of String,
Rubberous Core of Sodden Pleasure, come sail
with me in my Drunken Boat!”

He was hitting the sauce pretty heavy yesterday.
I’ll get Artie Rimbaud to sober up, I swear it, Coach.

Speak of the devil, Mr. Poe, I know you’ve been
sneaking your little hits too, and it’s more than
booze. You got to stop that, Eddie.

I promise, coach. Now who’s our starting pitcher?

I can tell you who it won’t be. I had to throw both
Bobby Frost and Wally Stevens off the team.
I won’t have my players fistfightin’ each other.

R. Bremner


When I walked into the Moon Cricket,
Kermit was sitting alone at the end of the bar,
Sipping his usual Yuengling.
He had phoned earlier in the day,
Saying he was back in Winter Garden, his hometown,
Visiting the few relatives who still live here,
And that he needed someone to talk to.
I was more than happy to oblige, because he was always good for a few laughs,
Ever since that first night we met,
When he was in town wrapping up his bio- pic KERMIT: THE SWAMP YEARS.

But this time, the smile normally stitched to his face was missing.
As I sat down next to him, he saluted me with his bottle
And motioned to the bar tender to bring us a round.
I asked him why he seemed so glum.
He looked at me with his large unblinking eyes.

“I’ve had some disappointing news.
The financing I counted on for my next picture has fallen through.
Though I’m not surprised, I am disappointed.
This was the story I’ve waited my entire life to tell.
I was going to play my great-grandpa, Hermit Smith,
The one hero in my family,
Who saved dozens of children lost in his swamp,
The one between here and Ocoee, the same one where I grew up.
One afternoon back in 1920, soon after he had developed his legs,
He heard, coming towards him,
Gangs of angry men hooting and firing their weapons.
At first he thought they were chasing wild boars;
But then he heard the screeching of children
Slopping through the muck and shallow water.
When he saw the terror on their black faces,
He knew they were the prey.
So he croaked as loudly as he could
While hopping towards solid ground.
Soon the other bullfrogs joined his call,
Covering the cries and gasps of the children,
Until they were all safely hidden in dense brush."

“Even with their throats raw,
The frogs kept up their racket.
Finally, mercifully, it grew dark;
And no place is as black as a swamp at night.
So weary and afraid,
The men fired what little ammunition they had left
At the encroaching pine and oak shadows;
Then they slapped each other on the back,
Thanked God for letting them do his work,
And headed home."

"A pellet from one of those last shots grazed my great-grandpa’s leg,
Which was why the rest of his life, whenever he got excited,
Like when he talked about this, he hopped in a circle."

“Anyway, while he was soaking his wound,
Keeping an eye out for snakes and alligators,
He pieced together, through the children’s sobs, what had happened."

“That morning, at the courthouse in Ocoee,
A black man named July Percy had tried to vote for President but was chased away.
The town whites had long hated him because he owned
Orange groves and vast acres of sugar cane
Where the parents of these children worked.
But even he didn’t have enough land to hide him
When the Klan from as far away as Orlando,
Came looking for him, crazed by the insult
Of his thinking he was as good as they were.
When they caught him, they shot him with his own gun,
And then hanged him from a telephone pole on Bluford Street."

“That inspired the Klan.
Next, they torched the houses and churches in which the other blacks were hiding,
Shooting the mothers and fathers as they tried to escape.
But still not satisfied,
They wanted to finish the job by going after the kids."

“Which was why the kids ran into the swamp.”
Kermit waved his empty bottle at the bartender.

“In the end over sixty people were killed.
“But if it hadn’t been for Hermit, it’d have been many more.
“For the next sixty years, no black lived in Ocoee.
“Which further antagonized the whites,
“Because when harvest came,
“There were only whites to work the confiscated land.
“Great-grandpa said he’d hear their angry cussing
“Deep in the swamp,
“Frightening bear cubs into the trees.

I told Kermit that though I had lived here for years
I had never heard that story.

“Unless he meets me at a bar, nobody else ever will,
Because the last man I counted on to back my film,
Told me it’s just too risky to put money in a movie
That tells people their grandparents were no better than they are.”

The bartender brought us another round.
I reached for my debit card,
But before I could get it out,
Typical of Kermit, he pulled a fifty from somewhere
And slid it across the bar with his one good hand.

“And to complicate matters,” he went on,
“I have to break the news to Fozzie,
Who hoped the role of July Perry would resurrect his career.”

Ron Yazinski


In the glaring lights of the Arena,
Dad looked so handsome without his suit and tie,
his aging face lost some lines,
and was frames by a beautiful smile.
He still held that calculating stare,
and oozed that formal air.
I told him how happy I was that we could meet,
and squealed excitedly when he gave me one of his rare smiles.
As Dad ran with the ball,
I was surprised by how little I knew about his youthful years,
but I was determined to enjoy the evening.
I chattered excitedly as the evening aged,
and immersed myself in the game.
But Dad won again and again,
while I tried again and again,
with hopes of beating his perfect score.
After a long streak of losing to Dad,
we decided to get some drinks while savoring the moment.
It is this time that the cursed phone rang,
Dad picked it and seem to age,
the lines on his face returned,
and his smile was hidden behind his mask.
With a sigh, he left for work,
ruining the perfect evening and leaving me to stare at his half-filed glass.

Nsidibe Ekpenyong


On the black ceramic shelf
Over the black ceramic wash basin
Are the rubber duckies of childhood
Three green frogs with bright white eyes
And an angel fish with the nose of a smuff
While a plastic duck's board tail holds soap.
All the imagination of childhood
The inducements to wash and feel new.
This was his bathroom when growing up
And filled with these toys,
One thinks though grown up and gone
He might return at all and any time.
He is a ghost that I wish to meet again
And answer questions that will be unending
Echoes in a walkable park's tunnel
As I was surprised, "by who should I meet."
It was the principal of my grade school
Elsa Ebling, a determined skinny lady,
Now retired, who preteen girls made fun of.
It was hard to imagine her on Flatbush Avenue
Near Ebbets Field in Brooklyn Days
Or the cultivated wild of Prospect Park.
I was limited in those days,
Unable to imagine a teacher out of a class
Or a school named after someone I knew.
I had moved on to a world of learning
She did not remember my name
But she was secure in recognizing me
From seeing me sit on a bench outside
Her office door, for my daily disruptive conduct.

Much as many old people who have only
Their thoughts to talk about she responded
When I said I wrote free verse,
Unrhymed poems that had a recent reason
By saying she constantly thought of Longfellow
And how he addressed the young and old,
How there is (a) time to put playthings away
So everything becomes gentle memory
Everything evokes the loss of time
The loss of being alive, the moving on
The isolated toys that once fitted in
And were to give us hope
As the bright white eyes of floating frogs
Or the plastic colored fins of an angel fish
With the nose of a well loved comic boy
Even when splashing water on the walls
Which is true to being a bath tub swimmer.

Edward Halperin