Poets Online Archive

Patrick Martin's poem In Dog-Years served as the model for this group of submissions.

We don't always count our time in hours, days and years. T.S. Eliot's Prufrock says "I measured out my life in coffee spoons." Some count by the weeks till vacation, hours classes till the end of a school day, months to summer, regrets,

For this new prompt, write a poem which addresses the passage of time in some unconventional way.

"In Dog Years" originally appeared in The Paris Review and was reprinted by permission of the author. Listen to Patrick Martin read this and other poems.

Take a look at these links for additional thoughts on time -
Time Travel for Beginners

A Brief History of Time


A letter waits like a ghost in the tabled hall
Because time is an arrow, because the sky is a mirror
Candles burn upwards, their tongues growing longer until there's nothing left to say
Dreams begin their helpless hum and
Every summer turns to spring
Farewell becomes adieu and then forewarned and then forgotten
Geese fly into the brittle cups that held them
Heaven coughs and winter falls
Iron melts back into the earth like syrup and
Jonquils seek the bulb
Kneeling to rise seems certain and secure and
Lately every startled song's a song of love
Morning never comes unless it comes too soon
Next a man in a watch cap walks you to the train
Outside the station doors a dog whines hunger and
People you almost recognize consider your face
Quietly before they too descend the stairs
Really, this all seems as it should somehow
Standing on the platform, the coming and going
Turning on the gyre of time
Until the face you'd memorized
Vanishes inside the train's licketysplit call
Wild with the night's white and ravenous fall
Xanadu rewinds the sacred Alph and now
You take long naps, you wait to be held
Zero multiplies itself in time and

Mary DeBow

Time passing by regrets:
father's insane swift slapping a careless toddler;
last name in grade school;
the falling out in a "67" tempest;
mom's adoption and food stamps.
Sweaty  secrets still untold.
My brother's skull along
side dried seeds.
My lost child floating in ether.
Time should have buried them deeply,
but they sprout
like weeds,
like shards of glass
in sand.

Lee A.

One Night

For a while I was distracted by the snoring man
on the other side of the wall.  It had been a kinky New Year's Eve
and we'd all kissed each other with passionate mouths
at the abandoned high school where we'd gone for fireworks,
and now I was splayed on another man's wide bed in my taffeta skirt
and he was doing something tangential with his wide and wonderful hands.

It's a new century, he'd said, moving his hands
towards mine and midnight like a supplicant.  The man
sleeping the whiskey off on the futon snorted once, skirting
the edge of sleep.  Underneath his lids I imagined fireworks
that creoled into a dahlia-faced Eve,
all bosom and shimmying lips and mouths

that wouldn't stop drinking him down to the mouths
of her deepest rivers, the silk deltas.  His hands
bloomed like sad fish at his sides as he clutched at fireworks
only he could see, demons, I thought, to drown any man
too afraid to sleep, and the man beside me moaned in even
rhythm with the sighs of his friend.  My skirt

whispered a secret, the skirt
on the edge of what was about to happen to our mouths
now that sleep had risen, a crow settling in the eaves.
A wall like a bridge, two men breathing.   What hands
had fashioned this tableaux, and why was the man
in the next room still sleeping his smoky sleep, the fireworks

long over for him and for me, all of us now beyond fireworks.
And sleep?   My skirt
lay whispering, and the man
lying next to me said, ssh, ssh, hush now, and our mouths
quieted, the night unfolded itself, our hands
lay quietly where we had left them on the eve

of our new lives.  An eve,
they say, is a time of expectant joy, fireworks
trading places with the stars.  We'd all held hands
walking home, and I had paced beneath my skirt
like a courtier from a foreign land, where mouths
speak for themselves, and there are a hundred names for man.

And this is how Mother Eve found us, her susurrous skirt
soothing what fireworks had done to our mouths:
sprawled where her 2 hands had tossed us: one man, one woman, one man.

Emma Davis

Prime-time Cafe au lait

When just a dollop of whipped cream melts
to blanket my steaming brew with hazelnut color
then I know it's time for me to sip and enjoy..
enjoy the moments of spring's arrival.
I take notice of fronds fresh growth
and rose bushes crimson, shrubby leaves fanning outwards.
I gaze down at the creaminess
reminiscing time when ice draped cherry tree limbs;
not so long ago.
Startled by sudden approach of a robin redbreast,
my cup with a jerk, swirls lingering streaks of cream;
like winter streaking across fields,
draping antique Brussels lace;
now, a shade of weary next to spring's vernal approach.

Connie E. Goulden


I turn to ask Morgan, my six year old, to stop chewing on his shirt,
and he asks me for the car keys, and I wake up on the floor next to his crib
counting breaths, he's sick, it's what the book said to do, and
Morgan's crying; his baby brother has crushed his Tinker Toy tower.
Morgan's crushed the front end of the car, and part of his brother's leg.
Morgan's talking so early, he puts on Daddy's tie and says he's "goin' to
work, Mom," and Morgan's talking so much he's failing circle time in
preschool, and his wife can't get a word in, and he's talking to me
on the phone about why she left.  Morgan's running, but tripping. His toes turn in
and we buy corrective shoes.  Morgan's running Track and Cross Country,
and he's crossing the country in his first new car to live almost as
far away from us as before he was born, before we ever had any idea
what it was like to have a son.

Svea Barrett-Tarleton

times square

they spend their summer days
endless hours
three score and ten past
these old veterans
carving shavings from cedar sticks
with pocket knives
blades whetted keen
they sit together
beneath two hundred year old trees
scarred from angry steel
not unlike that once fired from
cannon now silent sentries upon the
little courthouse square
where children play
where great grandfathers
fought for a time
each other, blue and gray
a bronze stature in distant corner
with names of fallen heroes
grandfathers who fought in time
for others, wars one and two
on third corner sits
a polished stone
chiseled upon, the names of fathers
who fought for a time
without understanding, or knowing who
each time different, each time the same
there at the fourth corner
sits an empty space
just abiding time

ray cutshaw

Counting Time

A mourning dove is counting time in the pines outside my window in its five beat song,
and I am listening to her breathing until my own breath falls into her breath and I imagine
the gentle waves of her dreamless sleep, unmonitored,  breaking on a shore beyond my horizon.

I am fluent in the grammar of grief and have studied the syntax of suffering,
but I have no system, not even a terminology, to enter the meter of my own life.

The tick of the clock, the curve of the moving rocking chair, the swing of the hammock-
the heart beats while we count drops of rain and measure the arc of the Earth, moon and stars.

The backward motion of melting snow on the roof returning to its watery source like Frost's brook,
carries me in its rhythm into the dawn, where the accents I tend to place mistakenly in my life,
stress the lines. I must learn to live in the pause of her trochaic breath, the serenity of no self.

Ken Ronkowitz


A digital miracle
Replaces sun dial, hour glass,
pendulum, and tick-tock .
TIME is now measurable
within a millionth of a second ,
without ever an error.

when my three-year-old
asked the question,
"How long is a moment?"
I thought:

"What of The Moment
when time goes into slow-motion
(or stops altogether)
in the face of terror, pain,
death, birth, love,
or unnamable transcendence ?

Neither Mother nor Science
has an answer.

Catherine M. Le Gault

days gone by

cups of tea
movies on friday
complaints over the course of a day
at dinner
on a street in town
that neither of us lived in

eons of misunderstanding
touches and tickles
of one untouchable
to another

running along corridors
closing myself in my room
thinking and scaring myself
with dreams without...

chocolate and fear
loneliness and lines from our favorite author
and knowing that connection
was made first with someone else

Brandi Semler

Zeno's Paradox

To get to me
you have to get
halfway to me
then halfway
and halfway again,
but by the time
I see you
halfway here,
I'm in another place,
so halfway here
turns into
halfway there,
and you and I
will never meet.
Consider one instant
of an arrow's flight:
it doesn't move at all
toward my heart
which doesn't beat
except in half
and half
and half.

R.G. Evans

Outside Hope

Measuring the night in miles,
we are traveling a mile a minute
on this black highway,
without even the radio to fill our silence.
It is when we pass a sign for Hope - 5 miles,
that I know I have only minutes to tell you
what happened and why and who he was,
or is,  and I wish you would slow down or stop,
pull the car to the side of the road and just stare
straight ahead while I try to put my feeling
into words that you will understand but the mile
markers flash by too fast and I know now
that we are out of control, brake lines cut,
and I close my eyes and brace myself for the crash.

Pamela Milne



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