In this week’s poem, a speaker describes what happens when he runs into an old therapist in a store. In a few moments, a whole story of how this person helped him through a difficult time is unlocked.

The word “stanza” comes from the Italian word for a stopping place or a room, so it might be said that any poem in stanzas leads us from room to room. Here, each quatrain leads us to a different complication or layer of the story.

You might note also how the sentences of the poem are strung across the line breaks and stanza breaks. The poet teaches us how to read the poem and what words to emphasize by how it falls down the page.

Robert Farnsworth has taught writing and literature for many years at Bates College. He published two collections from Wesleyan University Press: “Three or Four Hills and a Cloud” (1982) and “Honest Water” (1989), and, most recently, “Rumored Islands” (2010) from Harbor Mountain Press.

Well Enough Alone

By Robert Farnsworth

For M.

So when my melancholy turned

personal, edged with resentments

my intimates were now having

to bear, I began to schedule

afternoons with you. The stories

you prompted from me weren’t

all that different from those I’d

always with a mordant smile

told to friends who cared to listen;

but—as of the spheres, perhaps—

mightn’t there be a music of the past—

the arbitrary & the intended

assembled in necessity’s melody,

that once heard might be

comprehended, even sung

back into the wind for comfort?

That’s partly what I hoped.

Though I began to wake at two

with unfinishable thoughts:

Only a man who’d been secure in his

mother’s love could…what? Could

what? I had never done just this

kind of confessional thing before,

but your alert, steadfast, if not

exactly sympathetic interest

did gradually calm and clear

my reflections, helped me render

the past in primary colors.

Still I would not give up that wire

Of skeptical attention, that peculiar

Relish and suspicion I have always

kept for and from the world.

So when I saw you today in the market,

I was torn—there was an urge

to tap you on the shoulder, thank you

for your ministrations those four

years ago, but something prevented me,

maybe some instinctive code of conduct,

and also—yes—that I’d never really

gotten over your knowing judgments

of my laughter as a symptom.

Ok, perhaps it sometimes was

a nervous parry, but why—I still

wanted to ask—can’t mirth be heard

to embrace, not just avoid?

Mightn’t even real joy need salt

or strong pepper? Must I always now

know irony as armor, never arrow?

Inquiries have methods, I know.

It was enough to feel grateful.

So I kept a few aisles between us,

A distance we could call professional.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2017 Robert Farnsworth. It appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to

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