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Time Passes

February 2020

Humans have many time-keeping traditions. Our calendars track the movement of the Sun or the Moon. You could have a celestial calendar that tracked the movement of the stars.

I suspect that some people might track the year based on the changing seasons. You might personally mark the new year on your birthday. After 40 years of teaching, it is difficult for me to not feel that September starts a new year. The way we mark time throughout a day or year is often personal despite the larger time-keeping that is supposed to organize time for us.

When I mentioned to another poet that I was thinking about using a writing prompt about keeping time, she said: "You mean like in music?" That was a natural way to view my prompt for her because she is a musician.

In Walt Whitman's "To Think of Time," his thoughts turn to questions that all of us have had at some point.

To think of time—of all that retrospection!
To think of to-day, and the ages continued henceforward!
Have you guess'd you yourself would not continue?
Have you dreaded these earth-beetles?
Have you fear'd the future would be nothing to you?
Is to-day nothing? Is the beginningless past nothing?

In our model poem for this prompt titled "Time Passes," Joy Ladin personifies Time which seems to have as much trouble dealing with itself as we have dealing with it. I love that while the other three dimensions are sleeping, Time is sweating it out in the middle of the night and feeling lost.

Time too is afraid of passing, is riddled with holes
through which time feels itself leaking...
Time has lost every picture of itself as a child.
Now time is old, leathery and slow.
Can’t sneak up on anyone anymore...

All of our attempts to control time ultimately fail. Even the best calendars and clocks are off at some point. Laura Kasischke has a poem titled "The Time Machine" which suggests that long-wished-for-ability to go back or forward in time to somehow change the present.

My mother begged me: Please, please, study
Without it
I would have no future, and this
is the future that was lost in time to me...

When I first read T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the image that stayed with me was of measuring a life with coffee spoons.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

This month, we ask you to write a poem that measures the passing of time using some personal metric that may only be useful or relevant to you.  

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


I'm covered in sand.
It's stored in my shoes, my hat and my shorts.
It has reached into between my toes, my teeth
and keeps hiding under my eyelids.
Shaking it off, scraping it off, is impossible.
The sand has almost become a part of me.
I will be one with the desert.

I see my wet face and limbs sticking to the deep yellow sea.
A sea of sulfur, atomized,
crushing me beneath its billion drops,
enjoying the tickling sensation in my knee pit,
the rough grating on the back of my hands and between my vertebrae.
My fading thoughts varnish the powdery grains
so that I can see myself in a million mirrors, judging none.

Pulsating air, immobilized by cold;
my body streaming towards the beginningless surface,
towards nothing – towards all.

For all eternity I will
relive this never-ending chill.
In darkness and in day
Will I not cease to pray.
So world may come or world may go
until I'm freed from desert's flow.

Victor Green


I wish I could step back in time,
re-experience particular moments,
knowing they were once in a lifetime gifts.
Layers upon layers of gifts. One size not
fitting all strings of emotion, deeply felt
joys, heart wrenching sorrows

There truly is a time and a season for
all things big and small. Perhaps already
written in the archives of a mad poet.

If I could count the layers of dust
growing on my black lacquer furniture
I could probably estimate how long
I've been out of commission, but I can't
and so I caress each day, rejoice in
every breath I take.

The Christmas decorations are still
collecting dust, but joyfully gracing
the living room. One of the three kings
is still missing a limb. The mail is piled
to the rafters and my to do list grows
longer each day.

When we finally made our way to the
refrigerator, we found white fuzzy stuff
growing on the turkey breast, green mold on
the ham and slime on the chicken. We threw
it all out and got take out.

It's good to be home.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


An octogenarian rock and roller,
heart pacer prisoner, insulin junkie, I
frequent delirium revival concerts
forty-five years past psychedelica; nodding
a world-weary head, my keen tired body
seldom stands to dance, cheer, or applaud.

A sixties revolutionary, Fillmore faithful, &
Woodstock revealer, I watched Janis self-destruct,
felt the pathos of JFK’s & MLK’s assassinations,
mourned as the Beatles’ announced their break-up,
heard heavy metal replace contemplative
concept albums from the Kinks to Pink Floyd.

Now nostalgia’s grandchild, carpe diem takes
a back seat nosebleed to reflection, rumination;
I long to hear song arrangements as recorded
on vinyl—each note an ageless, enduring
rendering, defying time’s ravages, tempo changes—
not tunes sung through shriveled, voiceless lips.

Lacking design or social purpose, I faintly recall
familiar flashbacks, glimmering light shows,
loud stereo speakers, dark smoky dens; indiscriminate
memories emerge, hold court, frailly flicker
like misguided projectiles, shifting shapes that
travel across the ebon horizon like lenticular clouds.

Sterling Warner


I awake to the cold dark
as heat begins to rush in
syncopated waves across
the bed covers: it’s Monday,
inexorable as death.

Headlights bounce and glare
amid Tuesday morning’s humid
gloom: battalions of workers
in battered and spattered trucks
careen in herds to work sites.

Noon, lunch, respite of a sort
from Wednesday’s raucous rattle
of classes, lectures, meetings,
complaints, excuses, gossip:
another day weighted down.

The afternoon malingers,
lounging past three in disguise
as time on Thursday edges
slowly past: impatient guests
demand, as always, their due.

Sparse sunlight breaks the clouds,
garage doors rattle and rise,
wives and husbands greet and kiss,
Friday’s children laugh and play:
And eons pass, day-by-day.

Robert Miller


Unimaginable anything came before the children.

She arrived without screams or fanfare
like a whisper in a hospital room, attended to by midwives.
One minute in agony, the next an infant passed hand-to-hand.
You recite “The Jumblies” a poem we read to her in utero,
she makes eye contact recognizing your voice and we fall in love.

Time splits, before and after our daughter.

Then he arrives in our bedroom
surrounded by our 8-year-old, two midwives,
a doula, a friend, and a curious cat.
He slips out quietly in a mystical white sac
then his deep cries wake our napping neighbor on his porch.

Time changes again, before and after our son.

I sit up his first night, holding him close
calculate time, when he is 8, she will be 16
when she goes to college, he will be 10
when he goes to college, she will be 25
and when he graduates, she will be 29.

Tears mix with milk streaming down my breasts
my 2 babies already grown too soon
though he lays in my arms
and she is asleep in her bedroom
cozy with books, toys and stuffed animals.

I try to slow time down attempting life moment-by-moment,
as we laugh and cry, joys and sorrows.
The children eventually grow and move out.
We make plans to meet in San Francisco and Cincinnati
and gather for our son’s graduation; when he is 21 and she is 29.

Once more, time shifts
before and after
whatever is in our future.
You and I, we look for new markers
as they continue to find theirs.

Margaret R. Sáraco

"Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved." – Victor Hugo, 1862

It was the summer of ’73.
"You had me at hello."
Unlocking your office at the student center, you commanded space -
even then, I knew you would take care of things.
And me.
And you did, immediately
replacing my beat-up Beetle’s bald tires and bad breaks.
Lanky then, your hair as red as Dorothy’s slippers and shoulder-length,
and your long-lashed eyes hinting of our tomorrows,
you wooed me with your mustached smile, roses, and James Bond.
We picnicked and soaked up Summer’s rays and tricked the sun;

That year was full of beginnings -
my first glimpse of the ocean as expansive as Time
(It left me breathless or was it you?)
a sick father whom you cradled in your arms
Like an orchid’s petal enfolding its lip.

So much to love,
the snuggling, bodies as entangled as fishnet,
the rituals -
Saturday morning sleep-ins, the late Autumn boat rides -
the artist in you,
(If you were a landscape, you’d be grasslands, adaptive, open, vast)
your songs and ditties,
your tolerance of Shakespeare,
your work ethic,
your quick wit,
your passion for old cars and God,
your devotion to children,
that you can do anything and will –
except Time has hit the foot feet,
and you can’t stop the acceleration.
Jo Taylor


He thought he could fly
Thought he was moving forward
But he was hung by a ring on a cable
Strung out, suspended on a stretch of wire
That ran
From ordered expectations to scattered dreams
Caught in an ill-wind
Always moving
He had discovered the terrible secret
Of perpetual motion
Would slide back and forth
Future Past
Finite destinations
Running in a straight line

One day, as usual, he got up in the morning
By evening, time had stopped

Now the sun comes up
Goes down
His life moves neither forward nor back
Elevated to matter or energy in constant flux
It comes and goes
Appears to change
But change has no direction
And no value

Iris Lavell

        haibun for Trek

Our dog slipped through a fault between solstice and equinox, a year and a half ago. We dug his grave – a hole that can’t be filled. Unburied, ash to sky, dog is still alive in mind, as sun strikes ice so it ignites in otherworldly light. Sun on February grass dances like his leaps – green-frond in his jaws, pure dancing joy. I mark his passing by the day: summer falling into winter, the woods giving up an old year’s burden of leaves for the leap to spring

when time falls open
bursting light and life, dog-dance
outside of time

Taylor Graham


It used to be routine
Glucose, lipids, kidney function
If one number came back
Slightly high
The remedy was clear
Fewer midnight snacks
More time in the gym

Prostate cancer changed all that
Group 5 - Gleason 9
Surgery got most of it
But some of it got left behind
To lay in wait, regroup
In time
Attempt another coups

Now we monitor the PSA
At six month intervals
A short-term lease
Renewable, but ...
Terms and Conditions
Subject to change
Without notice

Frank Kelly


In the hallway linen closet lay a heap of blankets
Decades of time neatly and not so neatly folded
They strain the capacity of this deep, narrow space
Along with bath and dish towels, bed sheets and tablecloths
Stacked not quite in chronological order
Because well, they’re blankets - not quite birthed
Yet created either by hand, machine or both
There are 90s formula stained baby ones - thin and pilled
And a still slightly puffy nursery quilt my sister purchased
Along with a beautiful sleigh crib I put in the attic
To await baby number two who never came
And long before all those, a magnificent yet unused lace-like 80s trousseau bed covering
Next are the crocheted, multicolored granny- squared ones circa 1970s to present
Made by my mom for every family member and friend (formally requested or not)
The welcome to the family red one for Rich; blue and purple ones for Ali and green for Frank
There is the white baptismal one when religious ceremony and circumcision were rarely topics of debate
Ditto the not so gender neutral “I’m a girl pink” matching blanket (and sweater set)
I have only ever parted once with one of these blankets and it was most recent -
I lay our old pup upon it when his time came to move on from this life - it was his blanket to the end – and my way of wrapping him in love one last time after our 15 years together
Then there are my daughter’s toddler blankets - Lion King and Snow White
She says she will take these when she moves out this summer - empty nest; emptier closet
I wish I had one of my own baby blankets – and though she has left of us with many to cherish, mom was not the sentimental type herself
Long before I’d ever seen a down comforters there were chenille bedspreads
I wish mom had saved her 1960s thin, nubby white cotton ones with medallion motif and three sides of
fringe; mom was an expert at smoothing the sheets so the spread lay perfectly on top
Long before microfiber and faux-shearling came to be, there were simple 70s flat polyester blankets in a wide array of four color choices: green, blue, gold or pink – with “satin” trim and zig-zag stitching
-The part I used to pull up to my chin and liked to run my fingers across as a kid in bed long ago
Blankets - gathered and shelved - I reach for one
Time and times wrapped up in each
Unfolding at my touch

Terri J. Guttilla


Watching my son grow into a toddler,
I got to wondering...
When do we stop saying his age in months?
18 months is widely used.
22 months? Probably.
45 months? Not so much.

Curiosity drove me
To work out how many months old I was;
523 at the time.
Now, on the 18th, whenever I remember,
I celebrate my birthday.
For my 555th, I had a big party.
Last month, I turned 666.
The Number of the Beast.
I considered another party, this time satanically themed,
But thought better of it.
It might be asking for trouble.

Next month, instead,
I'm going to throw a 668th birthday party.
668: The Neighbour of the Beast.

Damon Leigh


I don’t know how others store their memories,
But mine are in those guitars hanging on the wall.
I found that first one, while still in college,
In a pawn shop that might as well have been the pound.
I soon realized its previous owner had abused it;
With every chord strummed, it snarled,
Ranging from a growling C to a sneering G.
It only settled down when I played an E minor,
Which is one reason all my early songs
Are as sad and dreary as my love life.

The next two have smoother action,
But the songs I wrote with them were a waste of rhymes.
It wasn’t until I bought that black one with the broken strings,
That I approached mediocrity.
One holiday season, I was seduced by an infomercial
Starring a Spanish guitarist who claimed to be famous,
Which justified his signed label inside the sound hole.
He pitched this guitar as crafted for dolts like me,
Promising I would quickly master a handful of traditional tunes
And play them as well as he demonstrated.
At best, I came within a few notes of the melodies;
And the love songs it produced all echoed Christmas carols,
With lyrics that were clichés even in madrigal times.

Which brings me to my last guitar,
This beautiful Taylor I’m now holding.
It’s the first well-made instrument I’ve ever owned,
An heirloom good enough for my grandson to keep or pawn.
And it’s one of the reasons, that at this age, I’m finally
Creating songs I’m happy to sing,
Each about my wife who bought it for me.

Ron Yazinski


Now is where time stands
In time's sands
We play to the
Shrinking conductor's
Ticking beating rhyme
Lines with repeat signs
Up-tempo crescendos then slows
The encore
Punctuates the last notes
Of melody
Time ends every season
As we spin
A song
That deafens
Time is a weapon
At war with memory
Half given up
Against forgiveness
Never minding his own business
Few remarks scathe
Like the last moments of wait
Before the fire of disappointment
After expectations unmet
And overdue
On hold
Time is a rogue
Sitting on the fence
Loafing with no agenda
Something of a villain
He steals at will in
The present tense
Twirls his baton carefree
Time does not reap a consequence
But studies what youth says
And laughs

Lee Burke González


They asked him to church on Low Sunday to ring the bell
       at two o’clock. But at twelve thirty the presbyter thought

maybe the bell ringer was still using old time;
it might be two o’clock, old time.

And today there is news. A father, a husband, found
      hanging among the slim trees on the edge of the village,

the same trees a pilot did not clear from the end of the dirt runway,
the same trees an overstory-
the same trees that will bear the weight of next Sunday’s hymns,

those trees.

And maybe no one saw him lug the wet rope to the woods.
      Who is to say by hand or by foot, when the clapper strikes
          the leather pad on the bell,

what is the reason?

At seven o’clock the bell ringer was still on old time
and life tried to go on.
When the villagers heard the half-muffled Sunday knell
it was, they thought, ten o’clock, Quasimodo time,
but it was actually almost eleven.

The wrong time,
the time it took,
the timing-

the bell ringer can decide it is any time he wants it to be.
       What time is it now? surely he asked himself,

dragging the braided rope through the mud, throwing it over
      the branch of a tree, tugging it down
           to catch the sally
and tying a uni-knot, he left the field of time,
      swinging like a pendulum.

Jackie McManus