Poetry Makes Nothing Happen? (2003)

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by Julia Alvarez

Listening to a poem on the radio,

Mike Holmquist stayed awake on his drive home

from Laramie on Interstate 80

tapping his hand to the beat of some lines

by Longfellow, while overcome by grief

one lonesome night when the bathroom cabinet

still held her husband's meds, May Quinn reached out

for a book by Years instead and fell asleep

cradling "When You Are Old," not the poet's best,

but still...poetry made nothing happen,


which was good, given what May had in mind.

Writing a paper on a Bishop poem,

Jenny Klein missed her ride but arrived home

to the cancer news in a better frame of mind.

While troops dropped down into Afghanistan

in the living room, Naomi Stella clapped

to the nursery rhyme her father had turned on,

All the king's horses and all the king's men...

If only poetry had made nothing happen!

If only the president had listened to Auden!


Faith Chaney, Lulu Perez, Sunghee Chen--

there's a list as long as an epic poem

of folks who'll swear a poem has never done

a thing for them...except...perhaps adjust

the sunset views one cloudy afternoon,

which made them see themselves or see the world

in a different light--degrees of change so small

only a poem registers them all.

That's why they can be trusted, why poems might

still save us from what happens in the world.

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