When You Were Young You Wrote Poems
—after Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art
When you were young, you wrote
poems about big sycamore trees, hot
bright summer, and several girls you’d
chase after school. You kicked balls, watching
them bouncing high to the lemon tree, cared
less about what you wrote. You typed whining
words on your cellphone, treated poetry as another
trash message to social media. When
you were young, words flew like dewy leaves—they
didn’t fall, they swirled in the air. So much love. So
sad. You drank Bacardi for a whole afternoon
just to come up with a single pretty line, then burned it all, threw
it away in a day coming back from your sports training,
and let sweat stain your shirt, on your papers.
Years later, you write poems. recalling days lingering
in the bar, German beers with shivering bubbles, bragging
about life and dreams. You are losing. Some
good friends, family members, warmth on the bed.
You are losing your favorite blue marble, your old boots,
the key to the Tudor house, your small green pond, jeep car
you drove thousands of miles, the ID card, your passport
to this strange continent. You lose them all.
So this morning, you write poems. Again.
You buy parchments from a vintage store, listen
carefully to the sounds of pen and ink.
When you are old, words choke in your throat like
saltwater, they lose their fluidity, like
you. You would sit a whole evening in a coffee shop,
watching people coming in and out, jot down some
broken words, compose them carefully
like decorating a birthday present in your distant
childhood. Days, you wake up, a new morning,
you find an empty pocket in your body,
find yourself taste the loss, then regret
nothing. When you are old, you write
You write poems.
by Shi Yang Su
Editor’s Note: This poem’s meticulous imagery carries the reader through a life with one narrative thread that stretches throughout—the act of writing.