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July 2020

If only life had an undo button. 

In Linda Hillrinhouse's poem "Tatiana" (from The Things I Didn't Know to Wish For, NYQ Books, 2020), the speaker wants to go back to a time and undo one-by-one a series of related actions. 

When I first read her poem, I thought of the numerous "not" poems I have read. There are the well-known poems that carry "not" in their titles, such as "Do not go gentle into that good night,"  "The Road Not Taken" and "Not Waving But Drowning

Hamlet says that the ultimate question is "to be or not to be."

There are other examples we can consider: of poems that are more than titled as such - "The Poems I Have Not Written" goes in a different direction. "This Did Not Happen"  comes a bit closer to our model poem. 

I like Mark Yacich's poem that begins "You are not a statue / and I am not a pedestal. / We are not a handful / of harmless scratches on a pale pink canvas..." which makes me think of Billy Collins' "Litany" with its list of things that someone both are and are not.

That listing is also used in Dan Albergotti's "Among the Things He Does Not Deserve" which is catalogs things undeserved ranging from "Greek olives in oil, fine beer" to the final "soft gift of her parted lips." 

But Linda Hillringhouse's poem takes this negation further. The voice of the poem not only confronts the truth of a time in her life that is painful to remember but finally tries to speculate on the driving force behind this truth that she wishes to undo.

The prompt this month suggested that poets might use "not" in their title or be a series of negations, but it should also try to address a particular subject and expose a reason for the undoing.


I am twenty-five again      
and I am not
in bed with
whoever you are.
I am not sleeping
until noon or wearing
my nightgown inside out.
I am not trying to sound smart
or make someone like me. Nor am I
getting stoned and painting happy
dead people with no eyes.
I am not telling some guy
I just met on campus
that my name is Tatiana
to sound exotic, to annihilate
the nobody in me.

by Linda Hillringhouse, used with permission of the author, from The Things I Didn't Know to Wish For, NYQ Books, 2020.

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


There are many reasons to undo
the stitching.
You sewed the fabric with the wrong sides together
or joined incorrect pieces together
or the stitching is just not straight or even

Start at one end of the stitches
Insert the sharp tip of the seam ripper
between the thread and the fabric.
Gently pull the seam ripper upward
away from the fabric to cut the thread.

Sometimes stitches are stubborn
and the undoing tears the fabric
making it unusable in the future.

After you remove the stitches,
you will probably want to resew.
You might be able to put the needle
into the same place maybe using the same color thread,
but a contrasting thread might be better this time.

It's never pleasant to undo
but you can fix mistakes.

Lianna Wright


I’m not going upcountry
this year as for birthdays younger
than the hills. Driving switch-
backs hugging the dropoff lane
with no guardrail while
the guy in the jeep ahead of me
dares the edge, swerving
on his all-weather treads and
hooting. At road’s end –
a gate with kiosk for paying
to park by a heavenly alpine lake
and eat the sandwich
I brought from home. I’m not
going to celebrate
another year of human progress
against the wild. Won’t
purchase a ticket to see what’s left
as my birthday sun
heads west to set into paved city.

Taylor Graham


You are not Romeo, nor I Juliet. We met on a
blind date in the seventies influenced by previous
blind dates gone bad, unrequited love and
marriages. Your long locks and facial hair resembled
Charles Manson. Mine, Rapunzel after a major
makeover . You tried to get me to do naughty things
on our first date, but I refused based on an
article I had just read in Ms. Magazine. Who
knew we would outlive and outlast our wildest
expectations? Now, older and somewhat wiser,
we find deep joy in poetry, old photographs and
memories that haven't been fractured by time.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


We didn’t go to North Beach
that night in December.
I said no to my sister
when she arranged the blind date.
You said no to your roommate.
We didn’t stand together by the jukebox
playing Edith Piaf, or after dinner,
walk down to the pier.
The moon wasn’t reflecting on the water
like a beckoning future.
Our past lives didn’t float off to sea.

Judith Waller Carroll


We sat together on the couch that day
and didn’t speak of all you’d lost,
of the car you crashed in the grocery store parking lot weeks before,
the job you could no longer work,
the cancer that moved like a thief through your body,

stealing your bones, your breath, your blood.
We didn’t speak of the shadow of death,
the Psalm you read me as a child,
“Yay though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…”

We did not speak of fear,
but of small things that flickered
like birds across the TV screen.
After weeks on the couch,
you’d assembled yourself a kingdom,

Sour Patch Kids stashed in the table drawer,
remote planted beside your knee,
issues of Coin World within arm’s reach.
You’d grabbed one and thumbed through,
stopping at an ad for a Buffalo nickel.

“I need this one!” you said,
the shadowy valleys of your eyes filling with light.
Disappearing into the next room
you wrote a check and called the seller,
chatting for a few moments

as though the world weren’t ending,
as though you weren’t leaving it.

Returning to the couch,
your face beamed.
“What luck!” you said.
“I’ve been searching for that coin for years
and there it was,
there it was.”

Kristin D'Agostino


I’m not sure what we could have done
I’m not wanting to think what could still be
For me, for us - the smaller and bigger
I’m not the sunshine-y rose-colored glass-wearing,
naïve happy camper I used to be
Not in our world, this current world
Not where the free aren’t free
Not where peaceful protesters are brutalized
Not where the brave are called cowards
and the biggest coward of all desecrates
its foundations and ideals every day
Not where racism, lies and cruelty are championed
along with the misogynistic, anti-intellectual,
anti-science venom that spills forth
like manna from Satan himself
Sowing, nurturing the seeds of ignorance and hatred
like an evil opportunist dictator
giving face to the “reason” for all that was wrong
them and us; divide, divide
Have we not learned?
Do we not remember?
There is reason why we must not forget
Reason why we must not ever question its truth
The greatest generation- many of them immigrants
Were they not our grandparents and great-grandparents,
Did they not bear witness? And so many others before and after
We must not forget any of it here and abroad
Not in fledgling colonies, not in Gettysburg, not in Seneca Falls,
not in Berlin, not at Stonewall, not in Dallas, not in Greensboro,
Selma and Montgomery, not in Tiananmen Square, not in Hong Kong,
not in El Paso, Minneapolis or Portland
No, I am not okay; democracy is not okay,
Humanity is not okay
None of this is okay and neither are you
but we are not alone, not without a voice
Not without hope
To not go back to the before but rather a chance
to come back better and stronger
Down yes, but out we are not

Terri J. Guttilla


I am
No longer
Windmill tilting fit
Fairytale innocent

No longer
To believe
All things are possible

I am not
Willing to risk
Broken bones to
Make a statement

But, not yet
Able to concede
This Holy ground
To hate

I am
Young man invincible
Nor old man wise

Not Bloomberg rich
Barack articulate
Ken Burns brilliant
Or Michael Moore irate

But neither am I blind
To what’s at stake
Cannot un-hear the toxic vitriol
Ignore the senseless violence

So, I must struggle
To un-Not myself
Do what I can
To stand up and

Be counted
Not hide behind excuses
Whether it’s enough
Or Not

Frank Kelly


Acceptance was not
The last thing Adam learned;
After nine hundred years,
Came forgiveness:

Not for the sun’s burning
Buds before they bloom;

Not for the moon’s casting
Serpentine shadows;

Nor for the spring wind’s
Smelling of Cain’s fire;

Nor for the clumsy rains
Falling too early or too late;

Not for the soil’s supporting
Trees which would bear fruit only after he’s gone;

Not for the birds’ cawing
As the harvest nears;

Not for Sister Death, who is as bored as he is,
With the monotony of her task;
After the first few centuries,
Those he accepted.

But the last bit of knowledge,
Gained from that tree so long ago, was forgiveness:

First for Eve, then for himself,
And finally for his Maker,

Who created him to forgive Him,
Because He could not forgive Himself.

Ron Yazinski


I am not a tree for you to water / I am not
A recipe for you to add a pinch of sugar, salt / I
Am not your work in progress / Not your holy
War, not your work of art /

I am not the reason you hold back or why you say yes / Then no /
I am not a good / Not a good bye when I go / I am
Not dessert served / For you to
Taste / I am not a blossom
For your vase /

First you give, then you take / But
I am not the photograph /
You will stage and fake /

I am the thing you thought
You'd bought / What you wanted for so long but couldn't have /
I am what I ought
To be / Always was
And am

Lee Burke González


My first marriage was born
From a combination of lust and gratitude,
Despite the fact that she smelled of coconut
The first time we met,
At the foot of the steps at Waterloo Station.
I hate coconut.
I'll not do that again.

My Dad wept on his deathbed
When he saw Mum and I hugging and crying
At the thought of losing him.
He had to ask us to stop.
I'll not do that again.

When I was eight, I lost a wooden clog keyring
That a neighbour had brought me back from Holland.
Last year, I lost a lovely, carved wooden pipe
With a little swivel lid.
I still feel the pain of these losses, of being so careless.
I'll not do that again.

I lent £3,000 of my mothers' money to Andreas;
I doubt I'll ever get it back.
I invested £15,000 in Dean's software
And that never came to anything, either,
Despite a lot of long days and wasted efforts.
I'll not do that again.

I slept with Spooky Sally
From the shelter where we both worked;
I'll not do that again.

I once bribed my late kid sister to take the blame
For the mysteriously unraveled toilet roll
So I would be allowed to go to Cub Scouts that night.
I'll not do that again.

I delayed holding a post-funeral celebration
For my Mum;
(I couldn't afford the venue deposit).
I'll not do that again because now,
There are restrictions on gatherings
And rules on "social distancing"
That make such a party impossible.

Preparing to write this poem,
I wrote a list of all my regrets.
I'll not do that again.

Robert Best


On a boardwalk somewhere in the south of England
a tasseled horse-drawn coach is carrying Lord Nelson,
Vice-Admiral Nelson, Nelson of the Nile,
resplendent in his full-dress uniform,
his bicorne hat a black wave trimmed with gold.

Union Jacks sprout everywhere, fireworks are spinning,
petals and confetti float in the exalted air,
and all the while beyond the crowds that choke the streets,
beyond the piers and dry-docks,
a fearsome battle beckons.

But on this sunny afternoon the sniper's musket-ball
is nestled among hundreds in a straw-lined crate
outside a French munitions factory, not tearing
into Nelson's epaulette, his ribs and lungs,
not severing his spine.

And here amidst the salvos and huzzahs,
Nelson's not remotely thinking of the hazy Spanish headland
where his body will be pickled in a brandy cask
lashed onto the Victory mizzen-mast
for his triumphant journey home.

Kristina Branch


The rest between the notes,
the space between the letters,
the pause between the steps,

the lacunae in latticeworks,
the stasis between heartbeats,
the screen where words appear.

Without these would be no be,
no is, no beating life,
no new-born cry, nor last gasp.

It is the emptiness out of
which appeared the primordial
bubble, expanding fire.

It is where time is born,
the web of Clotho begun,
life blossoming into being.

It is words scribed on a
blank tablet, creating
lives, leaving nothing behind.

Robert Miller