Poets Online Archive

After you read "Thief" by Frieda Hughes - from WOOROLOO (Harper Collins, 1998) what are your initial impressions? What do you recall of the mother & father? What images stand out most clearly - the stones, crow, the child, floorboards, a hollow tree, the fox, scents?

If you find out that she is the daughter of British Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and American poet Sylvia Plath, how much does that affect your reading? She studied art in London, traveled and at one time settled in Wooroloo, Australia. She is a noted painter and now makes her home in London, with her husband, painter Lazlo Lukacs. She also writes and illustrates children's books.

The child in the poem is dealing with whatever her parents gave her and also what they (especially the thief mother) also took much away.

For this prompt let us write about our own thieves. What is it that was taken from you? By whom - parent, sibling, stranger, teacher, lover, spouse? How do we deal with the thievery? Can we ever regain what was lost and if so is it changed?

Try, like Hughes, to use images and objects to represent and anchor the things you deal with in your poem.


If you steal from me again,
I'll kill you dead,
and there you'll stay.  I
want you there, in your
plaid tie.  I want you there
in your good blue suit and
unpolished toady shoes.

This is a flight of no
birds you've ever seen.

In my dream three men
beat another, and I
am all the men - the takers
and the taken.  What I kill,
feels good to kill.  The way
my father took the night,
my mother sucking at each
anger like a cat. And now
you, with my 25 years
on your hip, the unmade beds
lined up like ears of corn
ready for the scald.

I will take what's mine,
and if I have to,
ride 25 more years
in the saddle you stitched
with your leather flay.

I'll find my sheep, and the brand
they wear. They're stupid animals,
but mine.

Mary DeBow


Shoppers enter and like fly fishermen cast out their glances
Instantly the adrenal gland itself sends its wealth coursing
Then they actually shiver from tail to head in a response
Normally reserved for the pleasures of post coital leisure
Purse strings become so loose they are practically lassos
Eyes become ceramic and psyches reflect all this optic candy

They are called industrial psychologists
They who designed this super market of eye glasses
They who arranged fluorescent lights in crazy zigzags
To minimize the bags and sags when I catch glimpses
Of myself in not-at-all capriciously placed mirrors
And depth of relaxation engendered by dark gray surfaces
In an assortment of warm enticing textures
As well as the fiscal irresponsibility incubated
By softly backlit photos of noticeably handsome
Perfectly symmetrical faces:  No one over thirty
No one under stress no one under an implied I.Q. of 150
Tubes and slats and grids and wavies adorn
The walls and floors and cases and the very air itself
In the complement of turquoise or aqua or tint of teal

They are called industrial psychologists or marketing mavens
Who piece together innocuous arrangements of songs
The targeted consumer associates with halcyon days
And in the resulting daze his money becomes like water
The minimally waged sales associates wage war
Offering U.V. Protection $40 Scratch Resistance $40
Loss and Damage Policy for only $20 deluxe case 15
The madness spirals like the DNA that imparted
Astigmatism to my left eye, middle aged presbyopia to both

One pair of reading glasses $8000 to a woman whose flip flops
Are held together by the modern miracle of clear tape
Another fine product now marketed cleverly by--yes
This chorus of knows-all sees-all observers
Industrial psychologists--a breed of people
With whom I always cooperate in this masturbatory frenzy
This frenzy to part with the rewards for my labors
I begin to suspect I have seen more than enough of this life

Oh, Oedipus, now at last I understand the unfathomable
Your somewhat outrageous fashion statement
Made with those brooches so very long ago
The retailing of America is my Jocasta

From ubiquitous industrial psychology there is no escape

I lunge across the Florentine finished chrome display
With its barely discernible recessed mini lighting
And grab a pair of anodized Isaac Mizrahi ovals in one hand
Letting out a piercing war cry as my desperate right hand
Snatches a pair of Laura Ashley frameless for ladies
I back myself into a corner near a locked case of
Harley-Davidson frames arranged on faux cow skulls
Red bandannas, black gauntlets and a pile of genuine desert sand
Charging the register I scream and plunge the frames into my face
Viscous fluid runs everywhere and I see nothing
And imagine myself another adornment to retailing
The selling of emptiness and I feel the ache the others do not
I cast myself out of Corinth, New Jersey 070 oh, oh, Gods
And onto the vastness of the six lane divided highway
Blind I wander from strip mall to strip mall begging
For something
For some thing

Michael Z Murphy


If I asked you to take it,
you cannot be a thief.
But now I want it back
and you can't return it.
It's gone, misplaced,lost.
You tossed it aside
almost as soon as you
took it and I wonder why
I thought you would feel
any of what I had felt,
what I now feel, for
something only mine.

Pam Milne

Petty Crimes

It  was the pilfering that bothered me most.
Now, had you come in and cleaned out the place
that would have been a whole other story.
Insurance would have kicked in, the police called-
a complete investigation and recovery of goods.

But as I said, the pilfering...
Thinking back, first there was that subtle feeling of loss
working into something slightly amiss as you secreted
my heart away.  You who bragged of your big, good heart,
there were plenty of testimonials, even you should have
understood pieces can't survive a discarding or being hidden
away for any length of time.  They just don't have the necessary vitals.

It was only when you left the door ajar
that I noticed the empty space and your absence
finally putting two and two together.
I could hear the cop already,
" Lady, you sure you had it with you?"

Cheryl Soback


Revealed, the curtain rises
staggers stage left,
the family;
Interior Kitchen Table,
on the rocks.

Breathless, the small child
breaks for the exit;
she pleads for softer light,
gentler lines.

Panicked, the suited usher
turns slight shoulders
towards fluorescent center stage.

Smirking, the voiceless diva
sucks hard,
to fuel her sound.

Claimed, the waif
shudders slightly;
swallows sorrow,
gulps for air.

Unreceived, the air
crackles disturbance;
self doubt;
whispers warm flesh,
to stone.

Felicia Holtz

Side Effect

This morning I am twenty milligrams more of my other self.
I am the person you all want to see, hear and be with.
I love this person you love because you love him.

Who would arrest a thief stealing panic, fear and sadness-
stole some of my appetite (nine unneeded pounds),
some of my sleep (I read later; wake earlier)

But the thief pocketed something else on her way through my rooms.
When the skin on my face and neck flushes, my mouth
is dry, and I tremble awake from an unusually vivid dream-

why is there no need to write it down, to record, to reflect?
Things happen. Things pass. The clock hand sweeps a circle.
The house alarm's green eye winks an all clear, all secure here.

Darkness frosts the window
until the morning sunrise-
I swallow my past.

Ken Ronkowitz

Seasonal Trespass
(In memory of Sylvia Plath)

I find bittersweet comfort from the words of Plath.
Words that do no express an obsession with macabre images,
but rather invoke a connection
with unharnessed perceptiveness.

Most view her depiction as purely self-indulgent psychosis.
A poet who strived for sensationalism.
Most are spared from the intrusive realities of Tulips.

She reports on their presence:
"They are subtle; they seem to float, thought they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues an their color, A dozen red lead
around my neck... "

Now that nature's spring air has returned
all of my Tulips stand boldly alive, waiting to be welcomed
into the crystal vase on my kitchen table.

One stand separated form the others
defiantly grasping onto one last blazing yellow petal
saying, I'm still here, and proud to have upset you.

I quickly snip the bud from its thin stem neck,
watching the soft skull
drop to the earth from where it emerged.
Wishing death had taken only this springtime intruder,
not Sylvia.

Barbara Templin



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