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Ellen at Pacific University
Ellen reading at Pacific University where she teaches in the MFA program.


Mighty Strong Poems

For Billy Collins

“What mighty strong poems,” he said.
And I repeat it all day, staggering
under shaves of rejections.
But my poems, oh yes, they are brawny.
Even now I can see them working out at the gym
in their tiny leopard leotards, their muscly words
glazed with sweat. They are bench pressing
heavy symbolism. Heaving stacks of similes,
wide-stanced and grimacing. Some try so hard,
though it’s a lost cause. Their wrinkled syntax,
no matter how many reps they do, will sag.
But doggedly, they jog in iambic pentameter,
Walkmans bouncing. Some glisten with clever
enjambments, end rhymes tight as green plums.
Others practice caesuras in old sweats.
But they’re all there, hugging and puffing,
trying their best. Even the babies, the tender
first-drafts, struggling just to turn over, whimpering
in frustration. None of them give up.
Not the short squat little haikus
or the alexandrines trailing their long, graceful
Isadora Duncan lines. While I fidget
by the mailbox, they sail off in paper airplanes,
brave as kindergartners boarding the school bus.
They’re undaunted in their innocent conviction,
their heartbreaking hope. They want to lift cars
off pinned children, rescue lost and frozen
wanderers—they’d bound out,
little whiskey barrels strapped to their necks.
They dream of shrugging off their satin
warm-up robes and wrestling with evil.
They’d hoist the sack of ordinary days
and bear it aloft like a crown. They believe
they’re needed. Even at night when I sleep
and it looks like they’re sleeping, they’re still
at it, lying silently on the white page,
doing isometrics in the dark.

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