Tag Archives: Poetry

“Sibling Revelry,” essay in Animal

a new essay, “Sibling Revelry,” up at animal: a beast of a literary magazine!

Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine

Sibling Revelry

by Sarah Cedeño

“It’s a dead bird!” I call to my sister, Micheil.

Its bones and feathers are flattened here, exactly how a bird looks, but like it’s been hidden between the pages of a dictionary for a week.

Micheil brings a neon, size-12 kid’s shoebox, mine.

My brothers, in aftershave, mullets, and pimples, come down the hill in our yard, one carrying a shovel.

I am six, and the youngest, kneeling by the bird—the first dead thing larger than a potato bug I’ve seen up close.  It’s the closest I’ve been to any bird.  Usually, seeing a bird’s wings flap hard against the air made it seem as though I was chasing them.

A dashed line of one-hundred-year old maples border the chain-link fence around us.

My brother Darrin digs the hole.  Our dog, Coty, drags her chain through the chalky dirt after a squirrel, but leashed to her doghouse, she…

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I am still planning my syllabus.  I rake the shelves in my study for samples of poems and stories that my students will hopefully either love or hate–better off not being anywhere in between.

English: A vintage ampere meter. Français : Un...

Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

I searched for a poem that would make them unafraid.  I picked up a copy of Ploughshares from 2005, wondered briefly how and why I have this, then flipped through.  I stopped at Adrienne Rich‘s “Life of the Senses.”  I stopped for a number of reasons.  But mostly that I had heard a faculty member at Goddard’s MFA program read about her recently.  I had found this poem right then for some reason.  Magic, my 4-year-old would say.

Adrienne Rich’s “Life of the Senses” will alert my students to what they are hopefully not missing out on, or perhaps make them aware of the white space of life before constant interruption.  I tell myself that being aware of this helps, but it is a strange compromise between control, and loss of it.  The hope was this poem would make them unafraid of poetry, but the more I read it, I become frightened, myself.

Here’s how she begins:


Over and over, I think

we have come to a place

like this,

dead sound

stopping the soul

in its eager conversations

Or, a classical theme

repeated over and over       interrupted

by a voice disguised as human:


stay on the line

Your call is very

important to us

(from Adrienne Rich’s “Loss of the Senses”)

In 2005, I was in the middle of my grad degree at Brockport.  I had just started dating my husband.  I had free time.   I had just joined Facebook.  I had no children.  I had time to write, and didn’t.  I had time to read when I wasn’t.  I didn’t yet know I was sick .  At the same time, I revised stories about failed marriages and car mechanics and the Chinese Immigrant who answered the phone at the take-out on Main Street.  It’s still there.   And I edited papers under a desk lamp in my strangely trendy Main St. apartment–in Brockport.  I was making mentors, but Googled shortcuts through my education.  I still do, sometimes.  That knowledge is hard to erase.  It’s 2012–no, 2013, suddenly–and I have two boys who don’t know Facebook except for when I post them there like little entertainers.  I type this on my blog when I should be writing for packet work or watching cartoons with my sons, or recovering from a bad injection, but sometimes I crave social media like an entire bag of microwave popcorn that I inhale before bedtime and then curse at the heartburn when 2 a.m. comes and my children are already sleeping.  If it isn’t already, I know that tomorrow all of me could be numb.


No, it’s worse than I’m saying:

Have you ever woken on a hot night

tangled in a sheet you’d been trying

to throw off

wanting to clutch the dream

you’d been wrapped in

as long as possible?

(from Adrienne Rich’s “Loss of the Senses”)

After I finished the last section of the poem, I closed the book.  The cover wore a pale sticky note from a friend, and I read it: “For you.”  I imagined the first time I picked up this book he had given me, how this person had been a mentor, then, but now, how much had changed, how life goes on without us knowing, and how I know only Facebook posts of so many people.  People who were once in the flesh are now thumbnails.

When I spread the pages of the book to make a copy on my printer and the spine cracked neatly in half, I promised myself I would concentrate fully on the hum of the machine.

Trading Confessions

Last week, a student flopped herself in a swivel chair in my office just before class, to tell me she plagiarized her poem. Her eyes were so charged and black that it was as though she surprised herself when she told me.

I wanted to hug her, to show her that the pressure isn’t that much, that I don’t mean to place an anvil on her, that I won’t check beneath her heavy hands to see if she pressed out the right words.

Three weeks ago, a student told me she was nearly three months pregnant, though I never would have known to look at her. I gave her pickles, decaf chai, unsolicited advice.

I wanted to know what it was to be a pregnant student, to touch my stomach and feel the knowledge growing from behind my belly button.  When I got home, I hugged my boys tighter, wishing I could give my student some definition, some synonym to memorize.

Today, I read a poem from a student, revealing that she was diagnosed with cancer last month. I read it and re-read it and nearly cried. I checked her attendance for the past two months: she had not missed one class. She had lost her hair in the midst of discussions about the concrete, caesuras, diction, imagery.

In my mind, I contrasted my MS diagnosis, attempted comparison, but couldn’t, the only notes I had on the experience were at home, scribbled in a journal given to me by a friend. We will discuss her poem in class, and I will sit hushed, with guilt heavy as fatigue.

How can I grade life as it is just-lived?

Twenty Little Poetry Projects, by the late poet, Jim Simmerman

This is the exercise my students completed for class.  It’s fun.  Everyone should try it. 


1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
3. Use at least one image for each of the five sense, one after another.
4. Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses.)
5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.
6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
7. Change direction or digress from something you said.
8. Use a slang word you’ve never seen in a poem.
9. Use an example of false cause-and-effect logic.
10. Use a piece of “talk” you’ve actually heard (preferably in a dialect.)
11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: “The (adjective)(concrete noun) of (abstract noun)…”

12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse what you normally think about it.

13. Make the person or character in a poem do something he/she could not do in “real life.”

14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.

17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but makes no sense.
18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.
19. Make a nonhuman object say or do something human.

20. Close the poem with a vivid image that “echoes” an image from earlier in the poem.

Here is a link to the poem, “Dear,” which I had published from following this exercise (loosely) in Bellevue Literary Review.  While I’m at it, here is a link to Jim Simmerman‘s, “Moon Go Away, I Don’t Love You No More,” which follows this format exactly, and provides good examples of each the twenty projects, should you want to check it out.