This week’s poem uses the speaker’s regular crossword habit to explore how the mind works and how much words matter. What I enjoy most here is how the poet, Sally Bliumis-Dunn, who lives in Harpswell with her family, makes us go on the same journey in the poem, searching for the right word, that one goes on when doing a crossword puzzle.

There are also some nice sound effects at work here. The effects are called assonance, consonance and alliteration, if you care to know the terms, but all you really need to know is that there’s repeated consonant and vowel sounds that riff off each other and please our mouths and ears when we read the poem. That chiming begins in the first sentence: “…promise order / in the morning mess / of mulling over // the latest political morass….”


By Sally Bliumis-Dunn

The white and black squares

promise order

in the morning mess

of mulling over

the latest political morass,

what’s on sale at Kohl’s,

the book review.

Each letter, shared,

which lifts away

some sheen of loneliness I

can’t quite explain.

This week, “arsenic” and “forsythia”

are joined by their i’s

like long-estranged cousins.

And when they ask

for the French equivalent of sky,

I’m back on a wooden chair

in Madame Baumlin’s

eighth- grade class, passing

a note to David, having

no idea, as my hand grazes his,

that he will drown sailing

that next summer.

I like doing the crossword

with my husband –

Source of support,

three letters.

I’m the one who guesses it,

glad he doesn’t think

of “bra” in this way.

The puzzle rests

on the counter all week.

I like coming back,

looking at the same clue

I found insolvable

the day before, my mind

often a mystery to me,

turning corners when I sleep

or am upstairs folding clothes.

They get added to pounds.

Yesterday I thought

it had to do with money or meat;

now I can see the chain-link fence

at the local animal shelter.

Of course. “Strays”.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2010 Sally Bliumis-Dunn. It appeared in “Second Skin” published by Wind Publications in 2010 and appears here by permission of the author.

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