Poets Online Archive
Two Versions
November 2007

The rain falling on a night
in mid-December,
I pull to my father’s engine
wondering how long I’ll remember
this. His car is dead. He connects
jumper cables to his battery,
then to mine without looking in
at me and the child.

If I prompted you to write something about giving a dead battery a jumpstart, you may not have thought it very poetic. Still, that's how the poem, “The Same City”, begins. Now, whether or not Terrance Hayes ever really connected those jumper cables to his father's dead battery is irrelevant to me. I love that image and all of the figurative possibilities it holds.

The heart of his poem, is, for me, the lines:

But to rescue a soul is as close
as anyone comes to God.
Think of Noah lifting a small black bird
from its nest. Think of Joseph,
raising a son that wasn’t his.

There's a complex writing prompt here full of fathers, sons, children, forgiveness and reconnecting that I will not ask you to try - mostly because I can't easily express it myself. (Feel free to try it on your own!)

The other thing that caught my attention in this poem was the structure. There are 2 poems here. Version one and version two. They might be able to stand alone (stanza one more easily than two) but they really need both parts for their full effect. That structure is what we will look at in our writing for the next prompt.

Write a poem that contains two versions of the same poem. Now, I don't literally mean submit 2 drafts of the same poem. But why might a poet begin over again in writing a poem, but then include that restart? (Rather than what most of us usually do - scrap drafts for the final version.) This is harder than it might seem at first.

There's more about this prompt and the opportunity to post your own comments on the Poets Online Blog.

Terrance Hayes is the author of Wind in a Box (Penguin 2006), Hip Logic (Penguin 2002) and Muscular Music (Tia Chucha Press, 1999).

His honors include a Whiting Writers Award, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a National Poetry Series award, a Pushcart Prize, two Best American Poetry selections, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.

He is a Professor of Creative Writing at Carnegie Mellon University and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with his family.



Bare trees,
fallow meadow,
Empty forest,
Pine needles,
red berries,
squirrels, birds,
bark, bushes,
weeds, rivers,
streams, rocks,
stones, dirt,
hard packed
isthmus between
two seasons.

Let me begin again.
Animals, our bodies
draw close
via magnetic fields.
Can two ever
really be as one?
Isn't there always
an isthmus of difference
between us
that never disappears
even at the
final solstice?

Margaret A. Dukes


I’ll sit next to you.
Your head resting in my lap,
My hand, not cool, but warm, stroking your forehead,
Calming you.
Moving your thoughts away from memories of battles you did not chose, but felt you had to fight.
Your anger has only served to upset you.
It had no effect on its object.

To start again.
At eight, snowballs thrown at me in anger attempting to hurt succeeded,
But the snowballs were like the proverbial pigtails in the inkwell--
Caused damage, but were meant as a sign of love.
Causing damage is not love or a sign thereof.
Better on winter weekends to join couples, of all variations,
Sitting in the privacy of benches on upper Broadway
Catching up, laughing, enjoying the day.

Ellen Kaplan


A single leaf
small as a penny falls upon
an old turtle's back


The night disappears
a flock of black birds
darkens the pink sky.

Lianna Wright


Every day the gatekeeper draws a careful rim around her eyes
and borders the sweet valleys of her lips
She rolls her seat into the magic box
that makes her bottom half vanish

But when the big man passes by

She scolds herself because she
why does she

frazzle and burn like butter blackening in a pan?

does her heart
pop out of her eyelids?

When the man the big man
blue ribbon man
Firm money man and 100% billable hours man

When the man the big man
exits the
red light
womb red elevator box

she is like a key
at the end
of a kite
in an electrical storm

Every day the gatekeeper
takes a hard look in the mirror
she knows the story of the
the capitalist the greedy man
the men with shameless scales in place of eyes

And she knows all about
the false action make out session big man big eyes big penis
small vagina as radiant crystal

She puts her legs into the magic box
And waits for the predator

Lala Levintow


The world is getting worse every day.
     Your sense of the world is filtered through your depression.

Maybe it's my fault.
     Don't  imagine that your impact on your surroundings is so powerful.

I suppose I'm nostalgic for the past.
     Nostalgia is remembering the past was better than it was.

Can I be nostalgic for the future?
     This isn't helping.

I just know that now is not a place that I want to be.
     And yet, here you are.

I need you to give me some direction.
     I need you to give me some direction.

Pamela Milne


The sofa-bed creaks the same
under the weight of one body
or two.  No one counts
the minutes spent breathing
or sleeping or dozing into the page,
a dream of black ink, white paper.
But this is not a poem about poems.
You’re in it as well as I,
though one at a time.  The paper creaks . . .

Bullshit.  What I mean is
passion feels the same around the heart
whether love or lust or hatred.

You fit here somewhere,
sometimes in all three.
I wish I could fit

into the clothes I used to wear,
your body I used to inhabit,
the when that became the now

when niether of us was looking.
I can’t start again, so listen:
meet me tomorrow, right here.

I’ll be the fat man with the ink-
stained hands.  I’ll be angry,
tender, insatiable.  Me.

We’ll lie down on this paper.
If it doesn’t go well, we’ll try again
until it works, until something creaks.

R.G. Evans



All the saints are here
though roots push at heads with milky knuckles when the river laps,
upturning a stone or a bone or two. 

1870 sits on a stoop with 1913 who brushes the hair of 1948
who whispers a cradlesong to 1950 who blows a kiss to 1987 who
looks back at 1952 whose shadow stretches the length of the churchyard.
A birch-twig falls and touches a rose that bends to the lilac
that licks the dew from the palm of an angel that dropped a wing,

and a bluebird cries and makes the sky blue.

A whistle of wind sings through low grass and carries, uphill, a heavier chorus
that does a surround-sound around the feet of Jesus who stands alone
looking down at his flock from his rock-stone pedestal.
All the saints are here

though roots push at heads with milky knuckles
upturning a stone, or a bone or two,
when the river laps.

Today I came to visit.  You were still okay,
but your mother washed away. 
I'm so afraid I won't have anyone
to brush my hair.

Jesus stands alone.
All the saints are here.


Ants tool around on flat-grounded headstones,
up and down M's and W's, around highways of 8's and 3's
like tiny travelers with tiny backpacked burdens, relatives certainly;
they eat their own, you know; tiny travelers

on tiny highways where all roads dead-end, dead-end,
but they don't have a care. Grandma's still over there by the riverbank,
the bullet fast in her body, though I don't suppose she's Grandma anymore;
most likely all that's left of her after all these years is the bullet, dusty,
riddled with a vein of melancholy.
I feel most at home here.
Mother's over there

with her own caravan of ants.  I'm still wondering
who will brush my hair; I washed it.  Mother always said
that my curls were so tight, nothing would untangle them.  I
don't suppose she keeps a brush anymore.  Daddy's not here,
he's still in Michigan; I always felt at home there.  Grandma's
just a bullet now, though a bullet has teeth, it doesn't untangle,
it bites, and only messes up the head.  Daddy's bullet is here;
it messed up everyone's head; he's back there, though his teeth are here. 

I feel like an ant carrying a tiny burden up and down M's and W's
like I don't have a care though I know a bullet has teeth like a comb,
it'll never untangle, which is a crying shame -- I'm guilty of a messy head.

I feel most at home here. 
Maybe an angel will brush my hair.



Twilight fell on a fallen
city. Streetlights out, and yet
the pavement glittered with stars
of shattered glass. Before us,
what yesterday was
high-rise. You flicked
your flashlight on, and marched
into the gaping mouth.
The rest of us watched you
disappear – a legate’s
son, golden-haired willow-
wand with the magic
of message and tongues. Then
nameless into the dark, we
followed. When we crawled
back out, it was you
with the rescued child
in your arms: forever hero.

What vision
addressed you in the dark,
in such a perilous
language, drawing you back
in, again and again?
There was no one left to save.
Did you intercede with
the Minotaur of labyrinths
to find your way? He must
have touched you;
let the darkness shudder
its malignancy of cells
splitting apart. Now,
how less than willow-thin
you lie on white sheets,
your tongue too weak
for words. What
could save you?

Taylor Graham

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