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Poets Online Archive


November 2022 - Issue #303

Autumn and spring seem to me to be transitional seasons. Autumn is still some summer and sometimes it feels like winter. Early spring in my hometown is cold with frosts and the last snow, and late spring can feel much like summer.

People go through transitions. Most people probably go through at least a few every year - like the seasons. Some of your transitions may even be connected to the seasons -like school semesters or summer vacation, or living in a summer vacation place. But there are also the big "life transitions."

In Sonnet 123,  William Shakespeare writes:

No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change... 
This I do vow and this shall ever be;
I will be true despite thy scythe and thee.

‘Sonnet 123’ is directed toward a personified version of “Time" who is told that though the narrator gets older, he doesn’t feel that he needs to change his personality accordingly. He resolves that no matter what happens in his life, he will be true to himself. I don't consider this to be one of the Bard's truest observations.

As a writing teacher, I taught about transition words and phrases to connect ideas and thoughts. I learned there were types: Causal (consequently); Additive (furthermore) Sequential (initially, finally), and Adversative (however, nevertheless). To older students, I taught transition sentences that connect one paragraph to another, and then later when they were writing longer pieces, I taught transitional paragraphs.

I learned in college that there was even an "Age of Transition" in the second half of the eighteenth century where the change was from pseudo-classicism to romanticism. The transitional poets mark the beginning of a reaction against the rational, intellectual, formal, artificial, and the unromantic poetry of the age of Pope and Johnson.

Here is part of "Autumn Song" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?

One transition poem I like is "Originally" by Carol Ann Duffy. It is about a child who transforms as she emigrates to a new country, loses her original accent, and begins to sound like all the other students. There is loss and gain in this transition. 

All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,
leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
Your accent wrong. Corners, which seem familiar,
leading to unimagined pebble-dashed estates, big boys
eating worms and shouting words you don’t understand.
My parents’ anxiety stirred like a loose tooth
in my head. I want our own country, I said.

In a small collection of poems about transitions, I found a poem that I have heard Lucille Clifton read several times.

blessing the boats
(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear...

I like the way the poem ends - "and may you in your innocence / sail through this to that

Another fairly well-known poem about transition is "The Journey" by Mary Oliver, which begins:

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–

We have used all three of those poets multiple times for our prompts, so this month we'll look at a poem by someone new to the website - Maggie Smith.  Her poem, "Good Bones" (from her collection Good Bones) begins with a wonderful line: "Life is short, though I keep this from my children." The speaker keeps a lot from her children and like a good realtor showing a lousy home, she tells them that life has "good bones."

This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

In "The Journey," Oliver writes about that moment when you take the chance and listen to your own truth and set sail (as Clifton says) into a new phase of your life. Transitions can be filled with optimism or filled with pessimism or apprehension. Your poem can be about one of those big life transitions or one of the small passages we often make.

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


Somewhere between the stifle of summer
and a brisk winter freeze lies several months
where blue skies cool, vees of geese fly
south, squirrels bury acorns for later feasts.

Transition brings people trapped
in their homes by heat and humidity
to enjoy the time of falling leaves,
swaths of yellows and reds lying
on the ground, cool nights,
sunny days that take until early
afternoon to warm...picnic blankets
are used both for spreads of fall foods,
and warm laps, should drapes.

I met my one and only love during one
of those picnic days, she in long pants,
sweater top, me in a worn plaid jacket,
favorite tan western hat, strange
for someone living in Portland.

Both of us between summer romances
and the prospect of a cold winter alone,
the rest, as they say is history, the kind
that is related to children and grandchildren
over pumpkin pie and mulled wine
in our later years.

Peter A. Witt



I’ve taken off a nose ring, dozens of silver bangles, several rings, and the beloved turquoise necklace I’ve worn since our youngest son was an infant. The thin bands I wear on my fingers are symbols of love; my grandmother’s yellow and white gold wedding band, and from my husband a narrow gold band, an eternity band of diamonds, and another of rubies—my birthstone. I am stripped. It’s 5:22 am on July 7th. I enter the operating room with two tattoos: A faded iris on my left shoulder. And circling my left wrist, the names of my four children. Seven and a half hours later, I came out of that room.

This morning I wake to the holler of a skein of geese.

Skein: a length of thread or yarn, loosely coiled and knotted.
A tangled or complicated arrangement, state, or situation.
A flock of wild geese or swans in flight, typically in a V-shaped formation.

Patty Joslyn


Lecturing on poetry from the Lyceum stage,
Thoreau made a distinction between
‘two kinds of writing, both great and rare.
One that of genius, or the inspired,
the other of intellect and taste,
in the intervals of inspiration.’

We dwell in those gaps,
float aimlessly amid wisps of ennui,
fumbling for a crutch, a coma dose of novocaine.
They’re safe spaces, these liminal places.
Like amber containing the whir of change,
a balm for the ache of effort.

We aren’t even diligent metaphysicians anymore,
like sad Fechner, searching the physical for the soul.
He succumbed to the fashion of the new science,
focused on measuring the just noticeable difference,
when somehow the mind and the body shake hands
and we become aware.

Somehow the measuring suffices, assuages, inures.
But for the likes of old Walt, who knew he was ‘never
measured and never will be measured,’
or Anne Carson, who answers by asking,
‘For in what does time differ from eternity except we measure it?’
our constant is the interstitial, without a toehold
on the stones of then and too far from to be,
not abiding the fiction of tenses.

Rob Friedman


I ask
Who is impacted by the Full Moon?
It's hypophora.
It's in transit.
Am I my brother’s keeper?
It's erotesis.
It's what I must do.
But how could you do that to me?
It's epiplexis.
It's our transition.
The two of us pass the prime meridian,
and one of us crosses an invisible line.
Can you see what's happening?

Charles Michaels


We who live
On borrowed time
Have grown accustomed
To transitions

From one treatment to the next
That new drug promising "more time"
Like those TV adds — the possibility
Of one more autumn

When first diagnosed
Terror vied with Hope for our attention
The prospect of a cure
Still part of our reality

Until we learned
That train had "left the station"
Our doctors said, "It could be worse.
At least, you're in remission."

In time, we grew to accept
The label of SURVIVOR
Identified as "Living With"
Told "This stage could last forever"

Alas, for some of us, it didn't
Not to worry, we were told
There's always radiation,
Lupron, other cancer medications

Another period of time, another label
Until, one day an MRI revealed — metastasis
Just when we'd gotten comfortable
With our new status

There is no need to ring your hands
No need to pity us
We who live on borrowed time
Are accustomed to transitions

We are like trees, losing their leaves
Clothed in bright autumn colors
Transitions are a part of life
We know this — more than others

Frank Kelly


She wouldn't know me
if she passed me on the street,

but the anchor on the TV screen,
with her sheaf of papers
and clothes so chic
they make me drool

has been my buddy at dinnertime
for the twenty years
since my husband died,
a staple of life,
like the glass of wine
I enjoy with my meal.

Five times a week
she has served me
the world, seasoned
with insight and graciousness.

But five has subtly
shifted to four
or three or two
or even one, unpredictable
as the news itself.

The perky blonde
who has taken her seat
simply says that she's "away."

Soon I will have
a new dinner companion,
one without wrinkles
or sagging skin,

and the knife in my heart
will cut my food.

Susan Spaeth Cherry


My father loved to walk – a prodigious
stride, not to slow down for a child.
I'd keep up, stretching third-grader legs as if
for takeoff, skimming the surface of earth.
For seventy years I've kept his stride,
revising a bit on study-year abroad
to not be pegged as American.
My stride becomes me, walking this trail,
alert for roots and rocks to trip me,
greeting birds in brush along the way;
this late October morning,
creekside cottonwoods going golden
for fall. My father left this world but not
on his feet. How to catch up?
May I still be walking on good legs
to cross that bridge.
Willow begins to turn –
its branches silver-feathered
for fall, for flight.

Taylor Graham


I slept, my head at the foot of the bed
to catch the breeze pulled in by a lone fan,
the still, deliquescent heat and staccato
whine of cicadas lengthening into dawn.

At mother’s call I rose, ate, and walked
to the store where I worked: stocking shelves,
ordering goods, unloading trucks, checking
out customers— a six-year Sisyphean task.

The summer inched slowly by, drifting
in desultory rhythm: work, eat, sleep,
day by day but for the vagrant day off
when I read and day-dreamed on a park bench.

The air was dense with anticipation,
with anxiety, cans of beans, boxes
of Wheaties like objects on an episode
of The Twilight Zone, ghostly, alien.

A brother had taken me up the road
to find a basement room just blocks off
campus at twenty dollars a month,
a boarding house serving meals nearby.

I did not know it was to be the last
summer of youth, edging forward
into time, slipping into tomorrow,
withering the past into memory.

I did not know it was childhood’s end,
father soon dying, house and land sold,
family receding beyond understanding,
cut, as the cord at birth, never to return.

Rob Miller


I sleep
I wake
to silence
I pull up the covers
Of which there are now two
My body clothed
Yet slick - not with perspiration
but chilled flesh
and waiting
For my night eyes
in the still darkness
but I don’t want to be
I no longer spring from bed
A bed too big, too long
Summer is far behind
Winter whispering in autumn’s ear
Nature giveth and taketh
If rebirth awaits
it will not be here
Like butterfly from chrysalis
peeled free, floating higher
and higher- so light, so light
Below, still cocooned
beneath the covers
I rise up
Hope is spring eternal
And I am both
but soon my little acid-free trip is over
I open my eyes - I am back
unlike the day whose death
I mourn
Myself - never really gone at all
Here, there, somewhere in between
a recurring dream, a fire drill
a preparedness plan for control freaks
and aged, anxious, insomniac girl scouts
I am loathe to give myself over so early, so easily
Eventually consciousness unmoors
and finally – I sleep

Terri J. Guttilla


You were my boyfriend when we were fifteen
When the white blossoms from the orchards covered the valley every spring
And all summer long the smell of hot tomato paste
Floated over Highway 101 all the way to Gilroy
And the garlic scent rolled back.
The girls at our high school cut cots in the drying sheds
As soon as school was out, and the boys,
You and my brother, worked at the Contadina Cannery.
I thought we were the coolest couple on campus,
Cruising up Alum Rock to Santa Clara Street every night
To Mel’s Drive-In in your candy apple Bonneville for a cherry orangeade.
Our counselors didn’t think so. The Boys’ Counselor and the Girls’ Counselor
Took us aside, separately and told us that Japanese boys weren’t supposed
To date white girls. They were left over from the Second World War, so
We ignored them of course, not even noticing that we were among the first.

Then things started to happen.
The Tsukuda boys who had to tape up their tennis shoes to stay on the basketball team
Told us that their parents sold the farm and became millionaires.
The orchards disappeared too, and computers appeared out of nowhere.
You and the other smart boys who wore slide rules on your belts were ready.
You bought an HP calculator with your savings from pumping gas and washing windows.
I was ready too, after a lot of studying, and I morphed from a carefree Prom Queen
To a professor, a speaker, a listener. When the new college was built in the foothills
Where a pear orchard used to be, I taught the thousands of Vietnamese refugees
Who showed up after another war, traumatized, heartbroken, lost.
We all had to become somebody else.

And now, sixty years later, we are leaping once more
To a warm place where the frost that made the apricots bloom
Will no longer hinder our aching bones.
Now, you are more than a handsome boy in a white tuxedo at the Senior Ball,
More than just another Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
Now you are the man who watches with me as the tiny crescent moon
Rises over Venus while the high tide and the trade winds rush in
To take the beach away.
Now we live among the egrets, the first to arrive with the ripe tomato dawn
Over the sea, the last to return to their nests in the mangroves
When the candy apple twilight animates the waves.
You have given me a puppy to grow old with us
In the fragrant days of the white plumeria
Until the next shift evolves and we must become
Someone else again.

Rose Anna Higashi

Poet and high school teacher Alissa Pecora has used prompts from Poets Online in her classroom regularly
and sometimes submits student work. This group of poems was submitted for this month's issue.


The blue of the sky becomes less vibrant.
The clouds lose their sense of personality.
I want to go back to when everything was beautiful.
The trees grow old and the once lush grass runs dry.
So do the mourning tears I once shed.
But I'm getting used to this strange new way of living.
Although it’s mysterious, it brings me excitement.
Although it’s challenging, it is also rewarding.
I’ve found comfort in the silence.
where birds once chirped and leaves rustled in the sweet breeze.
Though the land is barren and nothing in the soil can grow.
I know there’s greener pastures ahead waiting for me.

Leila Shek


Sports are a form of movement and self-expression
Mass amounts of pressure, stress, and injury
It will all be worth it one day
Competing is the only way to make them smile
Doing one's best isn’t ever enough, improvement is always needed
No time for hesitation or panic
Just keep pushing they repeat, like a broken record
Don’t take a day off, keep moving
Your body is a well-oiled machine
Constant coercion continued
At a future time, the arrangement came to a striking hult
Their impressionable machine got a dent
In a flash, the atmosphere grew cold
Things got choosy with the recovery of what was injured
But also the persistent nudge of healing up as fast as possible
It’s all for them in the end
It's going about-face now
Passive is me, always has, and will be
I’m still playing the game but my way
About face competitiveness

Diane Meza


Growing up my family has always been my swords & shields
A generation made unafraid
There was no monster that could scare me away
As I grew older I needed to decide
The journey I see myself in
So I go off hoping it’s as simple as tying a knot
But as time passed by I realize it was all just a big lie
And all has seem lost
I fall to my knees
Praying to find a key
For each battle I have fought
In the end I always lost
The darkness consumed me, there was no light I could touch
Yet a tiny fairy came and sat on my shoulder telling me, “you’ll find your peace.”
And so I stood up
Then came face to face with my enemy
Sword and Shield in hand
I drop them to the ground
And I tell them, “I am not weak.”
I reached out in front of me
And press my hand against the mirror
Watching my tears flowed endlessly
Seeing my blind broken soul showing a bit of bright gold
For the enemy was me
I realize I never needed to find the key
Just to change my direction
My path
And that my enemy never was that
Just a part of me, I needed to accept
To learn I myself was my sword and shield

Abigail Diaz


When you’re confidence is lacking how do you live
How do you survive the day to day life when you’re
Like a snake who’s freshly molted
You’re vulnerable to the outside world
But just like a snake you can grow a tougher set of scales
Like a shield to protect you from being
Confidence on your day to day life
In the things you love
In the things you do
Don’t be
When you could be

Jake Ryan


Everything must change eventually.
Would it be for the better? Probably not.
Will it happen? Very much so.
Whether it be life or death.
Or even moving on.
And especially growing up.
Something has to change.
Whether you like it or not.
We keep on looking back.
But we don’t want to keep looking forward.

I believed in Santa Claus.
Until I learned it was just my Dad.
I believed that everyone was a great person.
Until I realized that people could be cruel.
I believed that change was random.
Until I grew up and saw things change.
I believed that I wanted to be a kid again.

And yet I still do.
I guess we don’t always go through changes.

Wilmardoni Dorcius


If you asked to see my younger self,
She would look nothing like me.
She is not me,
But at the same time, she is.
I don’t share her name,
And I am nothing like her.
She had bright golden locks,
And bright eyes filled with wonder.
Not afraid to wear pink,
Or dresses or braids.
Her color dulled as time went on
And I rid myself of who she was.
No longer as wondrous,
No longer as bright.
Golden hair cut,
To heal Rapunzel’s new heart.
To give a new life,
Finally I am free.
So I take a new name,
A new look,
A new life.

I hide who she was.
But she is still me.
And I am proud of her.

She lived a happy life,
But I live a happier one.

West Diaz