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How to Write an Object Poem (with Tears)

I belong to a fun writer’s site, The Write-Brained Network. There are all kinds of writers, all kinds of writing issues discussed, and occasional informal contests on the site. A recent one was to write an “object” poem, using this assignment: “Discuss how objects have lives and that they are often markers in our lives that help us recognize where we’ve been. They contain a special luminescence, connecting our past to our present.”

Though I enjoy reading some poetry (Rilke, astonishing; Billy Collins, charming), I know very little of its formal structures, and know less about writing it. That said, it’s a fun exercise to try writing out of your genre, so I thought I’d write an object poem about the humble sandwich. But instead, this came out, almost immediately after I started writing:

Sad Sandwich

Sad sandwich on the bedside tray
moved in haste, forgotten in the empty house
bedding thrown back in caught anxiety
the last sandwich

Thousands of sandwiches before
handled with his child hands
then later, workingman eager, lunchpail eager
laughing with full mouth, laughing with work friends
then later, cold sandwiches in the bomber,
cold over Berlin, cold over Korea

Then, long past being able to make his own sandwich
my father's hands, delicate, veiny, persistent
still enjoying his sandwiches
but now all slowed, a slow sandwich, eaten contemplative

Thousands of sandwiches, thousands now forgotten
the one appearing on the daybed tray forgotten in a minute, two
but still the slow pleasure of the chewing, the body's nod
yet, this last sandwich, a sad sandwich,
abandoned in the slant of afternoon light
my father, gone forever, this past New Year's Day
the plate now empty, the hunger unending

Writing That Surprises the Writer
This was one of those odd experiences as a writer, much as fiction writers say that their characters do things that surprise them as they’re written. Here, I’d intended to write a light poem, and instead, it morphed under my fingers to be a tribute to my father, who died a few months ago. Without my even intending it, the poem became “.. a special luminescence, connecting our past to our present.”

So, an object poem, written with surprise tears. It always amazes me, the weight of words.

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14 thoughts on “How to Write an Object Poem (with Tears)

  1. Sweet merciful heavens. Now I can’t let all the kids playing with Fiona in the library see my crying or they’ll all freak out.

    I’d say you’re a poet in addition to being my favorite lyricist to collaborate with. ‘twould be powerful indeed to find a version of this thought that’d fit a bit of folksy music.

    Fathers gone. the plate now empty, the hunger unending

  2. Joel, I’m no poet, but it is fun to stretch a bit and try other forms. And thus, you having bent me to writing a couple of songs is another fine way to twist the writing tongue. Let me mull if this could be a song…

  3. Frances, thank you very much for opening yourself to that feeling. As I said in the explanation, it took me by surprise where this poem went. But I’m glad it came out, sad words as they are. Thanks for spending some time here.

  4. What, pray tell, is a poet?
    If not you?
    Telling a story with
    the fewest
    words –
    a small mouthful
    of truth –
    Its author
    a poet.

    Tom, there are people with Canada Council grants writing poetry with less truth and beauty than you have slathered in mayonnaise and topped with a pickle in this poem. I truly hope you will allow yourself to be a poet.

  5. Caitlyn, how can I resist a poem explaining poetry’s genesis (or something like that—words confuse me, you know). I appreciate your kindness, and indeed, will try some more poems.

  6. Jeff, how’s it going? Thanks for hanging out a bit. Yes, I’ll mess around with poetry some more, because I’m such an infant with the form, that I can get its food all over my face and still be comfortable (albeit silly, which ain’t bad either).

  7. Hi, Tom — I’ve been sick, so I haven’t really had a chance to go through the entries on the WB yet, but I really like this!

    So glad you’re a part of the WB and that you participate in things — especially things outside your usual writing zone. It can be such a fruitful experience, as we’ve seen here.

    Well done!

  8. Tom, you can say you’re not a poet but you know what they say about trees, “you know them by their fruits.” So you must be. And that quote is biblical, so there you go. A lycial, beautiful poet you are.

    You must miss him, and miss what was not to be, very much.

  9. Tricki Ricki, I have you to thank for running an active and fun site, where there’s good stuff going on up front and in the corners too. Thanks back at you.

  10. Jule, you regularly put up some poetic writing at your site as well, and stretch your boundaries, so maybe I’m just trying to keep up. As for missing people, you keenly know what that’s all about. Thanks for the warm words.

  11. Brother Tom — you are right, I won’t share with mom, certainly not so close to his birthday. It was beautiful, and I could just see him with the old lunch pail…tears again….

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