Joanne Merriam


Mildew stains the ceiling and the left back burner's broken.
Don't turn on the stove or you'll blow the fuse.
You check payphones for change. You're out of bridge tokens.
You can't make the rent and there's no more booze.
The cracks in the bathroom mirror make real look strange.
But love waits for you face wrinkled by your sheet,
the songbirds sound like little girls in ecstasy and when
you head to the grocery--the sun! Swallows you complete.
Just think how time alters everything, and this crisp ten
is enough to leave this last month's awful panic undone.


  1. This is my favorite so far! Nice poem.

  2. Time does indeed alter everything. I especially like "face wrinkled by your sheet" and the overall rhyme scheme.

  3. A wonderful piece! Beauty pulled from desperate reality, and not too gimmicky an incorporation of the number theme.

  4. I love the imagery of being swallowed by the sun. I can imagine it and even remember the last time I felt that way - only, I didn't describ it quite so poetically ;)

  5. Cool contest, great poem. Love the last two lines. I'd say more Hugo than Bukowski, but what do I know.

  6. ...from Gary Imperial:

    I could feel the Bukowski in this. Nice last line.

  7. can something so familiar be refreshingly real? that's how this piece strikes me. This has my vote.

  8. Yes, a favorite - it goes from life's low to its high - that's definitely a 10. The images are real and vivid.

  9. "songbirds sound like little girls in ecstasy"

    Ha! Don't they just?

    Lovely, lively poem.

  10. I like this poem best, with its oblique content and unpredictable rhymes. Is there missing punctuation in line 6? Shouldn't "real" be italicized?

  11. Nice details, good language. Thanks for sharing!

  12. (This is Joanne Merriam.)

    Everybody, thanks so much for your comments! Winning is of course pretty sweet, but I also really appreciate everybody's thoughtful commentary. Thanks so much!

  13. Enjoyed this poem very much! It is part of people's lives.

  14. Alternate ending, after arrival at the grocery:

    You scrutinize bananas like you're buying men--
    Some ripe, some brown, some green--and pick your mix of ten,
    One per hour for an all-nighter with your best pen.

    The above is written in humor, but in all seriousness this poem is kept from being as strong as it aims to be because of the weak ending--a bit of a mass-market magazine ending. You've gathered in a few fans of the ending, but ask some ousiders. For example, at the simplest level, what does it mean to say "leave panic undone"? And is this an interesting way to say it?

    Also, if the poet chooses to present her voice in the form of a "you" (not my cup of tea, but it's become popular with some writers--perhaps women more than men?), then better, I say, stick to "you" throughout, and don't introduce an extra voice that talks to the first, which is what happens in line 2: "Hey 'U,' don't turn on the stove!" One way back to consistency might be something like "You want to cook but you know that'll just blow the fuse." (This issue re-appears in the ending too, but I suggest you entirely redo it, not just fix the point of view.)

    You've got four memorable lines (5, 6, 7, & 8)--which is actually quite an accomplishment, above-average "batting." Go back and try to add a few more. Line 4 is ok, but that's all. I would jazz it up myself with someting like this: "Your rent money's gone along with last night's booze." You need to think through the possibilities on your own, of course.

    A quibble: To me, checking multiple payphones (in most urban environments, though there must still be exceptions somewhere) is an anachronism. The work of checking payphones also suggests that the person has already left home (payphones at home?), whereas the next few objects (booze, mirror, sheets) are connected with home, and "head" out to the store occurs later. Why not find a way to look for spare change at home? In the couch? Boyfriend's jeans? A dresser drawer? Washing machine? Kid's piggy bank?

    And yes, as someone else suggested more timidly, in line 6 a comma after "you" would be kind to dumb readers like me who are forced to reread this three or four times and guess.

    I make these remarks, seemingly less enthusiastic than the others here, because the poem has much potential.