This week’s poem, Bill Varner’s “Volunteer Tutoring,” shares a teacher’s encounter with a man studying words and considering what they can and can’t express. I love this poem’s conversational tone and storytelling, and how intimately it channels the voices of these two men, both learning from each other.

Bill Varner is a writer and editor from South Berwick. His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Green Mountains Review, New Ohio Review, Poet Lore, Smartish Pace, and War, Literature and the Arts, among many others. He’s the author of the chapbook “Leaving Erebus,” winner of the Keystone Chapbook Series prize, and has been a finalist for the Maine Literary Award in poetry. You can often find him at Long Sands Beach, or in a local field with his dog Ozzy, who catches a frisbee like nothing he’s ever seen.

Volunteer Tutoring
By Bill Varner

He says he had the operation

to take his lower leg this past week

as he puts his crutches down.


Wants to be a cop he told me

a few months ago, that he’s

waited the required ten years

to get his record sealed.

I almost slip and tell him

they almost never do that in Maine.


We move through the practice

test for the Academy, and I tell him

don’t hurry through it,

take deep breaths.

We sit on the hospital bed

and break down the words


brandish, subdue, and abscond.

Next to us, his daughter makes rainbows

and stick figures in a coloring book.

He says he can still feel it, almost see it,

sometimes feel it move, and asks

what verb is there for that?

Megan Grumbling is a poet and writer who lives in Portland. DEEP WATER: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “Volunteer Tutoring,” copyright 2023 by Bill Varner, appears by permission of the author.

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