A lyric poem expresses and explores an emotion or idea. For example, Introduction to Poetry by Billy Collins. Another lyric poem is Wallace Stevens’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Students were encouraged to use the format, “[Insert Number] Ways of Looking at…” for their lyric poems, but they could also deviate from that form. Here is some of their work:
Ten Ways of Looking at My Sense of Humor
A pair of dice,
You never know what it will land on.
I can burst out in laughter at any time,
And have no idea why.
I’ll laugh for so long I forget what was funny.
Eventually it’ll come back.
I’ll laugh again.
A heart attack,
I never know what will make me laugh next.
Funny videos waiting on my instagram feed
Can make my laughter roar like thunder.
A magic trick,
The rabbit of laughter will pop out of a top hat,
Then disappear into thin air.
Then it reappears and I start again.
People often don’t know why I laugh out of the blue.
And when I explain, they go “Really?”
They’ll never understand my crazy mind.
Sometimes I laugh so hard I shed tears.
Then mascara gets in my eyes,
and I cry even more.
A time machine,
Whatever is bothering me can be cured by laughter.
The hilarity of my favorite youtubers is like therapy,
sending all feelings other than happy back in time.
A wrecking ball,
Crashing through a room at the wrong time,
interrupting precious moments,
attracting weird stares.
it sticks to everyone around.
It attracts every echo
and sends out a punch.
An extra organ,
it’s something I was born with,
and it’s the best part of my life.
Thirteen Ways to Look at the Forest
Wind slapping the wood,
Harsh, with a hand large and clear,
Without grace for the saplings.
Creatures dressing each Branch of the wood,
Singing an ever fading melody
Creeking sway keeping the rhythm.
Necessity for change, the wood,
Brutal and sharp,
Sacrificing green to obtain it.
Waltzing throughout the wood,
stepping upon sacred stones.
Building with wood, upon the wood,
Creating a host for adventures, the wood, boxed in,
nails, silver and faint, strike the skin, each hit, a
Not requesting permission.
Non-verbal, listening wood,
each branch split from laughter at our pettiness,
never complaining, never satisfied.
Deep brown, the wood,
Animal excrement fertilizes the rich shades visible,
The oak, never two shades alike.
Infant bark reaches up to the wood,
Searching for a simple way to receive light,
immediately snapping at any disturbance.
Slouching the wood,
Years of sunburn, no escape,
Forced to sleep with no cover,
The roof, The shelter
Watered in the summer the wood,
Leaves turning happier shades of green
though short lived,
Roots stripped of cover,
Old men love the wood,
Clearing it then planting
flowers and calling it good,
Men may produce more
the earth can get warmer,
minding the only deadline.
Smacked in the face, skinny hopeful branches by
Suburbia is aggravated,
Beauty becomes a chore,
Matching the shape is a puzzle,
nature’s creativity squandered,
For homes we buy the wood,
We believe we are people
We too are living in the Forest.
Halos of our
shining around our glowing
Our own brown crowns
that smell of incense
like the thunder
of a lion’s
like the stripes
on the fur of a
The very root
of our woes.
The reason for our
indecisions in life.
of the cloth of which we wear.
for our Creativity.
The origin of the Black
of Black females. Mothers
and daughters alike knowing the struggle
of hard floors and flowing tears for snapped
black rubber bands.
of our admirable strength.
Carrying the burdens
and holding our heads up
of a colored woman’s
and our Black
and the greatest
from harsh winds
and frost bitten
It is the black mark
on the whitewashed history.
It is the love
that is absent
from families and friends.
that is lacking
in the heart.
in the recesses
of the mind.
Number 2 Pencil
My Number 2 Pencil strokes this paper,
My thoughts run so deep through this piece of wood
I rarely have to put my eraser to use
I cannot be stopped once my hand grasps this Number 2 Pencil,
My temptation of saying whatever I feel at the time now urges.
I begin to jot down my feelings
I hope no one sees these I say to myself as my feelings
leak onto my piece of paper.
I will work, oh well my hands will hurt
It will be completely worth it though
The passion I put behind my Number 2 Pencil
It will show
Have you ever let your feelings out?
As I breathe, I feel relieved
My earphones are in, a beat is playing because music is what I love
But that Number 2 Pencil
It creates what goes on the beat
It makes me feel complete
I like to be discrete; I keep my pencil to me
Without it I’m incomplete
coursing from cupcakes
to my bloodstream
pledging love with a mouthful
of wedding cake.
Colorful cone-shaped hats
a hive of admiring adults
a bald-headed one-year-old
wiped to a fluffy bliss
indulging in confetti sprinkles of memories baked in for a lifetime
on the plastic high chair
pink stubby fingers crusted
“She got cake,”
said the creepy
Long white sheet
drenched in sorrows
left on the table
to get crusty
Aunt Natalie reaches
Stilettos stride to take the diploma
another long white sheet
sits at home
Selling Dope Raps
As the sun goes down look at the watch
on my wrist to see it turn 5
It’s grind time as I watch people leaving
work and cars fill the streets
While I stay posted under the light
of the pole more shadows pass up
the street and down the alleyway
I slap fives to stay alive as the time turns
to 12 am
With lips chapped and the moon
shining on my Chuck Taylors I walk past
red and blue lights tracing
Worrying about my mother checking my room
to see that I’m not there
In fear of the belt across
and her smack
against my jaw
3 am rolls around
once I reach the fast food joint to quench my thirst
and ease my hunger
back to my post, wondering if this is
my last night, my last night to stay
Hearing about my homie getting caught burns
fear in my heart cause I can’t get caught
for my mother will be distraught
Waiting for a ride that will never
come as 5:00 am rolls around asking
me if I can beat the sun
arriving at the scene after racing
the clock and the morning light I can’t
relax yet until I’m in without a fight
I creep in like a ninja
call me Leonardo
through the window and onto my bed
without a sound as the light shuts on
It’s about to go down
Downfalls of Being Broke
Every check you receive is going towards debt
Past of regrets got you living check to check
Nervously walking to the bank
Know the money won’t stay
Stale cold brittle bread
A hard to bite PB & J
Your house looks like you just moved in
The lack of furniture
Imagination brings the house to life
3 folding chairs become a couch
Your refrigerator neglected
Closet overstocked with can goods
All your friends going out tonight
Working at your job overtime
You need the money
How else would you pay your rent
Call your mother, auntie brother
Can I borrow 50 cents
You have a dollar fifty
That’s almost enough to wash your clothes at the laundromat
Dollar Tree is your best friend
As soon as you first walk in your wallet is with love
right next to the corner store
75 cent drinks and 50 cent cakes
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Fear
My head hurts.
Will I be accepted?
My eyes droop.
What are my options?
My voice rises.
Will people look at me differently?
Fear is like a dog
begging, then attacking.
Fear is like a siren.
Alarmed, should I run or hide?
Fear is like a cell phone,
waiting on someone to call.
Fear is in my gut.
It pierces my stomach with
sharp pains as if the needles were
Fear is in my heart.
It shrinks my heart to smithers.
Fear is in my head.
It rattles around in my thoughts
as if a baby’s holding onto it.
Will I be accepted?
College, heavy as bricks
is a brick on my back, a heavy
What are my options?
Lincoln, LSU, Michigan,
three birds perched on a wire,
calling at me.
Will I lose the people I love?
playing with guns,
I can’t lose any more.
The Melanin I’m In
An experience inside of me.
A fusion of sorts,
That makes my melanin pop
First you have the potato people
Who hail from afar.
They put the green in my veins,
And invite the pigments of hunger
It swirls through my soul,
And makes me whole
Or a part.
I don’t know.
Now the people of a lost world,
A “new” world like Atlantis
The fair skinned and users of life’s gifts
The spirits guide them,
The earth, the gaea,
She loves them,
And the way their melanin strides.
They open their their third eyes
In respect for souls.
In respect for this bold
Or don’t you know?
The vast darkness
Of My fabulous melanin
The last of the race.
The swift and steady.
The most proud!
It comes from roars of unvengeful lions
The honey-like ichor that flows
This I do know.
Yes I speak of THE people
Of the people whose melanin spills
From ankhs and drips from plump lips
The people whose songs ring rich
With the booming bass of tears
Tears that came with the red stench of Freedom
They joined in one
A most joyous celebration
In one bold soul
It comes from a fine cut
A regal trinity of diamonds
Yellow, red, and green
It comes from Amun Ra and Horus
the spirits of old “America”
The trees and creatures of the earth,
And the land of invasion and famine.
I pledge allegiance to my melanin
May the spoils of my pigments live on.
Her grade could be 100 percent
but she craves 100 and 10.
Her perfectionism is a number line.
It never ends.
A tear trickles down her cheek
after she fumbles on her chainé turn.
An algebra mistake is like a tall
building crashing down.
Crave, dream, breathe perfection.
Chew, spit, swallow perfection.
Clumps of black thick hair
in her hands
from pulling and tugging
the stress out.
She looks into the broken glass mirror,
a slight glimpse of flaws,
her perfect body is broken too.
The word NO to her is death,
as if you had pointed a gun to her skull.
At least she will know she lived life near
You ask for one thing?
Expect ten more out of her.
She asks for one thing?
Put your life on the line for her.
Purist, quibbler, idealist defines her.
Maverick, norm, oddity haunts her.
Neatly organized or she falls
and her whole life rusts up like an old bicycle left
outside in December.
She avoids rejection like a young child avoids broccoli for dinner.
She desires approval of others with the sincerity
of her grandmother’s embracing hugs
In this world of imperfection
she will risk it all, even Samantha’s jealousy,
But that’s not the reality of it.
Her failure is her perfection.
Thirteen Ways of Looking at an Artist
If you befriend
one of these creatures
For they are fragile
To submerge yourself in their minds
would be a tightrope walk
above the fine line
between a daydream
and a nightmare
Rather than blind
their third eye
in a sea of acceptance
A vast wasteland
overflowing with illusion
and discarded works
like an hourglass
of unlimited sand
The unconscious mind
the body surrenders
hands up like a clock at midnight
a boxcar of self-acceptance
One day the artist effortlessly boards
The way a masterpiece
can give birth
to silent poetry
negativity is spat upon it
Doesn’t matter if the glass
is half empty
or half full
There is water
to wash away every speck
of paint from the brush
to start anew
A mind of mayhem
an unavoidable disease
Pill bottles stocked
with acrylic and ink
IVs full of coffee
to flow through the thin veins
of a diseased soul
Ungodly hours spent
clawing canvases of creativity
constructing sculptures of insecurity
No need to be baptized
in the river of Do this
Instead sail stormy seas
watching clouds join hands
displaying the beauty of creation
Hands trembling to tell a story
without a single world
Pencil and paper connect on and off
a lighthouse blinks piercing through thick fog
reaching out to any ship
lost and lonely
Where I come from my street was full
of people hanging on the corners,
police sirens sounding every
five minutes and women standing by
the gas station asking for money just to get
their daily high from tobacco
Where I come from it wasn’t safe to be
outside by myself without someone ready
to shoot someone else just for simply
the colors that you might have worn
People outside gang banging representing
their city but in the end the negativity
will still follow and watches you like the
nosey neighbor that throws everything
Where I come from the drama was
always trying to invite itself from
the streets knocking at my front door
waiting to wrap itself around me like
a snake slowly killing its prey
Where I come from there wasn’t a such thing
as nice people… Only
manipulators and thieves ready to
strike when you’re most vulnerable
Which turned into no point
or even no end
Where I come from an everyday
job for most people was to sell drugs
but it was the fast paced, non stop
craving of money that they desired
or even loved
Everyday staring out of the window
just before I leave to go outside
Just remembering there is
a brighter day through the darkness
Which means no end
13 Ways New Orleans is New Orleans
He screams Where is my Cinderella?!
I scoot by, drop my ice cream cone
Sad, There goes mintiest
staring at my cone cracked on the cracked hot
street. The green brown mess of colors;
almost resembles Starry Night when squinting.
She squawks, Move out of my way!
I shove my way by and she drops her phone
Sad, There goes the priciest
The screen cracked on the perspiring grass.
Click, Click, Click, the sound of vintage heels
tapping on the concrete divided floor
Boutiques screaming at you 1940s and 80s.
Drawn in, I see corduroy bell bottoms and rusted nick knacks.
Dress shoes with cracking patent leather.
Skirts of varying colors and lengths with cigarette stains,
You can smell the must from miles away.
A dirty dog barks at me leashed to a gutter punk.
Beignets covered in powdered in sugar,
iced chicory coffee.
Who knew it could snow in New Orleans,
I now look like a pathetic snowman melting.
Jambalaya, Voodoo chicken, Cajun Gumbo.
The special tonight, Seafood Jambalaya,
Buttered crab legs, tender scallops,
crispy calamari on a bed of fiery red rice,
I hear screaming arteries,
each time someone takes a forkful.
Sweet tea please, hold the ice.
Skat-da-do-bee-bop, the saxophone, trumpets,
and horns blare Nonsense.
Ting-Tang-Ta-Dum, drums beat and symbols crash
to their own rhythm, as people sway and dance.
Watch me tap dance lady! Kid shoves me,
On a splattered painted bench and insists he’s a tapping prodigy
But I know better.
I can tell you where you got those shoes madam!
The old New Orleans trick, which ends
with “I got my shoes on my feet.”
A dusty lengthy prankster grabs my ankle trying to trick me into
paying him a quick cent.
Outdoor street vendors yell this way and that promising
riches for less than the other, I chuckle thinking
How stupid do they think I am? being a
tourist draws a target on my wallet.
A giant electric yellow Twinkie grabs me from behind.
Introduces himself as Dave “the minion.” Take a
photo with me! he exclaims. I shake my head no, move
his fuzzy arm and continue walking.
The St. Louis Cathedral, legacy of
The stone heart of the
French quarter. Not “Holy,”
but I step in, getting away from the Devil’s
House of heat. Cool and damp, my thighs stick
to the pew.
Any church feels holy
in 106 degree weather.
Splash, watered down
chlorine stings my eyes as I cool off in 107 degree index.
I float on my back,
the sky is dim with shadows of pink and brown clouds.
Plink, I stick out my toe, feeling the heat my toe
Already circled by heat waves.
Splash, my foot now cooking on the pool side.
I smile, hopefully next time I come to New Orleans
the palm trees won’t be sweating and I won’t be cranky.
Home & Heart
Home is where the heart is.
But what to do,
What to do,
With a broken down tent.
With a cardboard box.
With a home, with a heart
But no roof.
You try to be content
with your contents.
Though there is little,
what you have
weighs you down.
Your feet are lead
Your head, iron
Your hands, copper
is what binds them.
They say it’s your fault
how you got here.
You made your own choice.
You dug your own grave.
You made your own bed.
With of your throne of self-importance.
As if the air outside
was not enough.
Your cold words sting
with ignorance, distain.
It is funny how
knows more of the world
than your college degree.
Keep your tongue
behind your teeth.
Keep your stereotypes
your common knowledge
because a door does not open
Without the hand to turn.
Without the arm to push.
Without the foot to kick.
Appearance isn’t everything
But in this life
Will you stop for the man
whose linen is thin?
Whose scent is less
than a fresh morning breeze?
13 Ways to Look at Death
Following the bright light
that guides you to the light room
filled with darkness.
Homicide, fatal gun shot wound
overdone on pills, suicide
uncontrollable cell division, cancer, disease
accident wrong place wrong time.
Lifeless body six feet under
ghost spirits standing watching
as dirt drops on the casket.
Dirt from above falls
down as if it was rain
hitting against the window pane.
Parents lose young child
child lost both parents
a world with no oxygen
cold and gloomy due to emptiness.
Burning candles and incense clashing
with hymns of a soul-filled choir
one tear falls, then several on the obituary
as moldy wood echoes through nostrils.
dreams killed, shot down
because of our black dreams
over powering their white dreams.
There’s nothing, no heartbeat
no longer feeling the crisp, chilly wind
or hearing the laughter of loud obnoxious friends.
Stage four, holding on tight
a hard game of tug-or-war
cancer left and back again
under 3 years gone, cancer battle not lost
he won he conquered .
The smell of the aging church building dies
as the ageless body leaves
exiting the doors of the sanctuary
before entering the grave.
Maybe it’s the better way
the place with grass
greener on the other side.
The day of entry to this world
first breath, first cry
a few years later, exact same day
last breath, final cry.
expect it as reality
a responsibility no one was
but has no accept
realize death is the end.