Instructing your readers in the art of poetry can be dangerous territory for a poet to enter, as poetry is notoriously hard to define or put limits on. But this week’s poem, through specificity and surprise and honesty, show us how it’s done.

It shows us the level of detail a poem asks for, as in “paprika spiced mangoes / sold by a street vendor in Chichicastenango.”

It enacts the bold language and images a poem asks for by describing a poem as “mowing the lawn / from underneath the grass.”

This poem’s final image reminds us of a simple, surprising truth.

Anne Tommaso writes short fiction and poems, but mostly she teaches English at Yarmouth High School.

Poems Are the Conversations We Should Be Having

By Anne Tommaso

They are death to small talk.

When I say that is a lovely orange blouse,

I mean that it is paprika spiced mangoes

sold by a street vendor in Chichicastenango.

Poems are not knitting sweaters.

Each stitch a new word

following someone else’s pattern.

The work of a poem is mowing the lawn

from underneath the grass. It is each

snaking leap made by a squirrel

with half a tail. It is what would

happen if the crazy neighbor across

from your mother suddenly took down

his fences and showed the world

his bruised Fords, screen doors,

and the shiny, hydraulic bone of the log splitter.

Poems are acts of living.

They are similar to how one of these days

we will drive to the store for groceries.

On another, we will drive to a graveyard

in humble procession, our lights

on in the middle of the day.

We will have made both trips-

for food and death-in the same blue car.

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 Anne Tommaso. 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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