Echo or Loss

This is a poem I’m dedicating to Kate McKinneyCake, who knows why.  And this is a picture of me I took by accident by pushing the wrong button on my computer, because I like accidental photos. 

p.s.  If you don’t know Damien Rice’s song ‘Accidental Babies’ from “9,” go download it immediately, then be prepared to weep.



Echo or Loss


First the windows yawned and then

the final flakes of paint twinkled

to the ground.  The south chimney tilted

like Jacob Marley’s nightcap, while

inside, a nest of swifts too small

to fly gaped hungry mouths, cried. 

Even in the death throes of this house


where I dreamed myself sickly thin

in the chill bedrooms; even then

something had the mercy to  attend to one

white horse who grazed silent

in a plot dull flat and blazing

dry.  I passed her every day

on my way to the seminary

where I had enrolled in the task


of transformation.  Suddenly

years have passed since I saw

through a crack in the unmoored

shutters a strange boy drying

his hair by the fire.  The house

is buried now in the earth’s slick

green.  Beyond the side gate the lazy

bees swim in the ether of the boneyard.


Was it I who broke the mare’s thin back?


Was I who wished her sleep?

Published in: on October 26, 2008 at 9:44 pm  Comments (57)  


  1. whew. that is unbelievable. i don’t think so. it wasn’t “I.

  2. the task/of transformation. beautiful and perfect break to make the reader really read it. i need to re-read.

  3. I…Love…IT. Incredible.

  4. That first section is SO evocative.

  5. Well, Miss Cake, I pulled it out of the bulging file just for you.


  6. and the accidental photo is great. i love my built in camera mac.

  7. I thank you.

  8. Where did you come from Miss Haven, all of this talent pouring from you? I love this, and I’ve said before that poetry is hard for me, but I find that yours stills me in that good way I never know Iam looking for until I find it, does this even make sense. I have missed everyone on here, threw a 16th birthday party for my beautiful girl yesterday that drained me but was so worth it, and now its time for some me time.
    Beautiful poem to come back to.

  9. Gorgeous poems – inspiring me to seek out that well again, too. I’d gone seven years without writing a single line (the poem I wrote about 9/11 killed something in me) until this last spring semester, the final semester in graduate school, when I wrote a poem cycle inspired by the Planet Earth documentaries in place of a seminar paper. And it felt extraordinary – like learning to breathe again, or discovering one likes chocolate after all. And I vowed I’d keep it up, but it’s scared me off all over again. These poems of yours, though, feel like nudges, like the good kind of nudges. Thank you.

    And I love accidental photos, too. Alas, my wife and I don’t have a camera rigged to our computer. I sometimes wonder how my face likely contorts as I’m venting my spleen about the Religious Right or the Nobel Prize for Literature committee. Perhaps a future investment? In the interest of curiosity…

  10. Caryl, I spent fifteen years writing poetry every day, all day — I was voracious, like Plath in her last, mad days. (Except I was fairly sane, you know — well, I did smoke a lot of pot.) The wonder is that I can write PROSE. I’m not saying I do either especially well, but my heart belongs to poetry, it’s just that poetry’s heart belongs to Gjertrude Schnackenberg, Philip Levine, and Brigit Pegeen Kelly.


    p.s. Happy Birthday Beautiful Daughter!

  11. i am just so glad you are sharing this work with us. your poetry is as immense and moving as your novels. thank you.

  12. Jason, I quit writing poetry for YEARS, just as you did. What I found is that, as I’ve mentioned about novelists, there are writers who are ‘generative.’ They help you find your own voice and make you WANT to write. Look for those people. Oddly, I find I am always moved to write something after reading Dylan Thomas’s ‘Fern Hill.’ That’s very idiosyncratic, but it works every time. Go back to it — poetry needs you.

    Before the Literature Nobel was announced this year I made a joke to a friend that the person’s name would surely be spelled “Jhftjxz 2hwmnq.” I wasn’t so far off. When was the headline was the winner was French I gasped and thought, “Not Houllebecq, there is no possible way it could be Houllebecq, please please.” OH NO! HOW SILLY WAS HAVEN?!? It was someone not even published in the United States. They might as well have brought over one of their stinky Swedish fish and slapped us all in the face with it.

    End of rant.

  13. Good Lord Haven,
    The last time I saw such an outpouring of talent was when Steve Alford nailed 7 three-pointers to lead IU to its last NCAA basketball tournament in 1987.

    But you….

    You are putting up four-pointers, getting your own rebound, and dominating from the key and the sides.

    Your last poem causes me though to offer up this one from my stack.

    God, how I love poetry.


    How could you have known what it would all mean?
    The first time it was raised to your lips? A sweet drink lingering on your tongue. Left you wanting. Left your mouth in the shape of a kiss.

    How could you have known, even guessed, what it would come to mean when you really looked at them, saw for the first time the thick skin, the nipple, a sheen the color of sun?

    Surely you wouldn’t have expected what you came to learn, when you rubbed its oil deep into a wooden thing you loved, or when you tossed it into the garbage disposal to sweeten a bad air.

    No way to ever know these things until its nearly too late.

    But then comes a moment when searching is surviving. When discovering isn’t finding something unknown, but understanding what was always there.

    One perfectly good reason.

  14. Now I shall continue to rant. The Nobel committee has not awarded an American poet in more than 100 years. Think about that. The reasoning is that Americans care more about the nature of poetry itself rather than the world. To which I offer an unrepeatable obscenity. Here’s what I’d like to say to those lunkheads, if they could understand me: Americans INVENTED modern poetry. Dickinson made something that had never been seen before, Whitman did the same, and then following them the New Critics who taught us HOW to read poetry and prose, and THEN organic form, not to mention god-blessed Robert Lowell, for the love of Mike, followed by Plath and Sexton, and then the LANGUAGE POETS, HELLO? Is anyone in there? I don’t even like language poetry but you old people on the Nobel Committee with a bone to pick because we’re 5,000 times your size? GROW UP.

  15. So true about generative writers. I love pictures where the subjects’ faces are unposed and unguarded. Your pure intelligence and intensity shine forth.

  16. George, I’m covered with goose eggs, as my children call them. I know exactly what’s in this poem and it is glorious and sublime.

    p.s. Actually, Alford made those three-pointers, but it was Keith Smart’s gorgeous little jump shot just outside the paint at the buzzer that won the game.

  17. Remember to please let me know if you need a copy of THE USED WORLD so I can get it in the mail speedy-quick. Really fast like!

  18. Polly, if you mean ‘your’ intelligence and intensity as in ‘mine,’ thank you, but what actually shows forth is that I have crossed-eyes and a gigantic nose. But what are ya gonna do. This art the face God giveth me.

  19. you are not cross-eyed! i also want to thank you for sharing the poetry. i used to write a lot, but have fallen out of it–you are an inspiration!

  20. My neighbors ran shouting and screaming from their houses, Can-You-Believe-IT!!!! The televisions dancing in the living rooms and basements, the announcers speaking in tongues…

    That shot of you is cool. This is what your screen sees when you are doing your thing. It says, “Oh-oh, I’m about to get wrote on. Watch the electrons fly, baby, watch them electrons fly!”

    Screens tend to be idiomatic and not very concerned with grammar.

  21. You know why I love this blog so much? Not only do I get to read something as sublime as that poem.

    But mentiones of Damian Rice, and IU basketball as well. It’s almost to much to take!

  22. all right. this is scary to do, but art is only art when it is shared with someone other than the artist, i think. so here we go:


    I’d like to hold—
    at the back of my mouth—
    the clammy weight
    of cold stone,
    the aftertaste of copper
    resin, settling;
    the thick, crumbly fullness
    of moss breaking apart
    at my saliva,
    to eat the forest in this way—
    by handfuls
    and sip the thirty shades of blue
    with a straw
    from the dawn sky.


    Dec. 23rd

    Up this path
    is the old stone fireplace –
    crumbling – its guts spilling
    out in broken pieces
    on a bed of skeletal straw
    and yellow-gold weeds
    that crunch were I walk.

    Inside the hearth,
    where its ancestors crumpled
    into flecks of flaming dust,
    a small tree is breaking
    up into the thick matter –
    sprawling green in
    a pile of dark ash –
    unaware of the meaning of the
    blood that floats black
    in the sky.

  23. I can’t even believe you all let me in here. I am in the company of genuises. Oh my.

    Haven, please keep sharing your poetry. It is wonderous.

    George, did you write that? If the answer is yes I love you even more. It made me think of a VanGogh painting of a plate of lemons that I tried to copy when I went to the Corcoran School of Art. It just came back to me then. Perfect.

    Amanda- I could also taste the stone. What vivid imagery. Bravo.

  24. Linda: after what you wrote this weekend? You are a board member in this company of geniuses.

    I wrote it after a friend confessed to me that she was on the verge of killing herself when she noticed a bowl of lemons and was so taken aback by them that she decided to keep on.

    Amanda: I am going to keep that image in my mind next weekend when I take a night time bike ride through the woods. My God, this time of the year you can smell Earth and how often I wished I could eat it.

  25. Amanda, again with the chills. Ah, just . . . ah.

    And George, ‘when she noticed a bowl of lemons’ caused me to burst into tears. That’s exactly like the scene in Styron’s DARKNESS VISIBLE when, on the night he decides to kill himself, he heard an aria his mother used to sing, and he just stopped in his tracks and checked into a hospital.

    Is there any more beautiful line in a song than in Lucinda Williams’s “See what you lost when you lost this world, this sweet old world?”

  26. Linda, I read your poem aloud to friends FOUR times since you sent it. It gives me chills every time. I’m going to print it out and hang it above my desk, to remind me of things I so often forget.

  27. Linda, I agree with George!!!! I love your insights and your writing.

    George, I loved your poem about the lemons, but knowing the background story makes it more chilling and wondrous.

    p.s. to all:
    in case it is not obvious (i forgot to hit an extra space), “feasting” is one poem and “Dec. 23rd” is another.

  28. George, I’m posting the link to your sons tribute movie here. We all know Haven’s going to ask for it, right? 🙂

  29. Thanks…I have always loved that little song. Hummed it and sang it out loud to both of my guys. This was an encore.

    I wish I could cry easier. I need total catastrophe to make it happen.

    But I am moved so close to tears by certain things. This song being one, or
    A child running like Frankenstein, arms outstretched, across the yard, or
    The scene in the first Narnia movie where the little girl is so wide-eyed accepting of the world in the wardrobe, or
    A line of wash, flapping in the wind, or
    A broken blue egg on a mound of moss, or
    The scent of caramel corn, or
    Freight cars crashing against each other as they link up in the train yard,
    A yellow porch light left on on a winter’s day,
    A three-legged dog unaware of its loss,
    When I miss a three-foot putt, uphill, straight, no break, no excuses, or
    The first Yes album, or
    Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Judy Collins singing the refrain on the song, Dida, or
    Johnny Cash singing Hurt, or

  30. Hi Haven,

    As a previously silent observer (if I started gushing about how much my mom, best friend and I love your work, you’ll begin to think I’m a tad loony) and with a nod to George’s poem’s subject matter, I am writing because you might be interested in a piece on David Foster Wallace in the 10/30 Rolling Stone by David Lipsky that gives fascinating insight into his struggle and suicide.

    Hello to everyone – I love your humor and banter with each post. I am afraid my brain does not function at the high level of each of yours, so I wish you well and will return to only reading your comments and quietly laughing to myself.

  31. I am catching up on my reading here, and Linda you are a wow you didn’t even know you were.
    George as always, and Amanda thank you for putting yourself out there with your contribution of beautiful poetry.
    Can we put a book together so I can give it to my poetry writing/reading daughter?

  32. Linda – RE: “I can’t even believe you all let me in here. I am in the company of genuises.” I know, right?!

    Caryl – Wish your daughter Happy Birthday for me!

  33. Caryl: Yes…a big happy birthday. If you all come out to look at colleges, let me know.

  34. Haven, you have paid me the highest compliment I am likely to ever receive. I am just so happy to have found all of you I can hardly contain myself.

    George, can you write a poem about pumpkins? They are one of my most favorite things in this world. My teeny tiny avatar photo here is of my daughter sitting amongst a giant heap of pumpkins. It was taken about 2 years ago but I love it so much. It is just so Emma. I don’t think I have posted it to our yahoo album. I need to do that.

  35. poem about pumpkins…hmmm, poem about pumpkins…i will see what I can do. I bet either Amanda or Particles already have one just waiting in their files though. (Amanda has a great picture on her blog of some tree roots. I love that picture.)

    I am busy writing what it must feel like to be Haven’s computer screen. Her accidental picture is kinda inspirational.

    And isn’t it great when Haven pays a compliment? Beats a vitamin B-12 any day of the week and she is generous and sincere on every one.

  36. Amanda and Haven…..the TASTE OF STONES…reminds me of Zippy sitting there putting pieces of gravel in her mouth. Haven’t we all at some point in our lives, put at least one stone in our mouths for whatever reason? Me, most of the time some stone was just too pretty not to see what it looked like wet.
    You guys are so talented and I love you because I get such wonderful mental images…like little movies in my head all the time.
    We could just compliment each other all day…you! no you! oh no, you! and be right each time. tag, you’re it:-)

  37. heeehee. thanks brenda! you made me laugh.

    happy news moment: in North Carolina alone early voting has surpassed 1 million votes already. of those, 58% are democrats and 25% are republicans, suggesting of course that the remainder are unaffiliated.

    here is to history in the making!!!

  38. Okay, as soon as I posted the above comment I casually asked my office mate, Cheryl (who by the way Haven, bought some cheesy Wal Mart fake squirrels in case she can’t find stuffed real ones) if she had surely put a stone in her mouth before in her life and she looked at me sideways like I was crazy strange so I said “You grew up in Texas! Not even playing cowboys and indians? ’cause you know that’s the only way you can keep from dying of thirst in the desert is to suck on a stone!!” She’s still laughing.
    How humiliating. Sigh.

  39. Thanks for the election update, Amanda. I voted early last week. Now I just pace around, waiting.

    I just saw that one of my favorite Vanderbilt alumni, Roy Blount, will be on campus Thursday to give a lecture hosted by the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. Roy has a new book out. I read the title and laughed so I wanted to share it with all you word smiths.

    The lecture is “Through Is Thoroughly Throughsome, Go Is Wide Open, and Wince Makes You Wince: On the Non-Arbitrariness of Words”. His new book is, Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinations Thereof; Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts; With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory.

    I have to go to this.

  40. Haven, here is a post I sent you when I found your site, only I managed to post it to like, last year, before your blog even began. My bad.

    On October 4, 2008 at 1:32 am Matt Piersol Said:

    Just LOOK at all these cans of chili beans.

    Tomorrow, before I go to work I will stop in at St. Theresa’s, and pass these beans off to the men in black, nice enough guys, kind of a creepy pat boonish quality about them tho. One time, I gave one of them five dollars to bless my dogs. Can you believe it? I will give those beans to them, and they will say thank you. And I guess they will then ship those cans down to a food pantry in or around Galveston. At least that’s what they said they would do with them.

    The difference is, these will be slightly different beans. These will be UBBER beans. Because I just wrote “HAVEN KIMMEL LIVES!” on the label of each can. With a felt tip marker. And underneath: “Read her books! They RAWK.” Now, someday, one of you is going to talk to someone and they will say:

    “Well, I read this message on a can of beans we got at the food pantry, and then I was at a public library and there was this book, A girl named Zippy, by Haven Kimmel, so I read it. It was really good.”

    Then you can say: I am not suprised at all.

    Where did you get that badger?? I will tell you about watching my
    Dad yell at a badger one time. It wouldn’t get out of the road. (My Dad was a rural letter carrier, and I always had to ride with him on snow-days and Saturdays). I am not sure how old I was, but I know I couldn’t read very well yet, and Kirk and Spock were on the cover of a TV guide we’d be putting in one of the mailboxes. I had been looking at that thing for twenty minutes probably, shivering like I was reading a love letter. Fly in Space! Cool! I asked Dad about who these guys were, and why did that guy have ears like that, but he didn’t know. He said it was some new television program and ignored further questions.

    And then: badger.

    They were truly kindred spirits, those two. The badger hissed like a demon baby, inflated itself, performed a hellish pep-club routine demonstrating just how much it hated us and our stupid truck.

    Tooting the horn didn’t work. Dad even took some firecrackers, black-cats he got down in Missouri, lit them one by one off his cigarette and threw them near it: they popped. The badger smirked.

    My dad didn’t want to run over it. He could have shot it, but he didn’t. Besides, that would be too easy. He got out and yelled at it, called it a stupid shit-heel and so forth. (Eact ! in the following sentence signifies a foot-stomp) GET THE HELL OUT! OF! MY! ROAD! he yelled, which only prompted more bad behaviour from herr badger. Hell, who knows, it could have been a lady-badger. I stayed inside with Kirk and Spock.

    Then he got in the truck and drank some coffee (this was a minimum access road) and we ate some candy and listened to Ralph Emery on the radio and he smoked a cigarette and sulked. Ignored my questions – and they were many – about “what is E-N-T-E-R-P-I-S-E??” and so forth.

    The badger must have gotten tired of our shenanigans and finally gave us the road. It had shit to do.It waddled off into the ditch and ran some badger errand I suppose. I threw some peanut-brickle after it I don’t know if it found it or not. As soon as I hear anything, I’ll let you know.



    P.S. You have an excellent blog here.

  41. SEE!! (I know I overuse the exclamation point but I am helpless in the face of y’all). Oh Matt…you make the blog even MORE excellent than it already is…what grinning as I read the word pictures…and I REMEMBER that t.v. guide cover and I WANT one of those cans of beans.

  42. First time I ever heard about someone being badgered by a badger! That story is great.

  43. Matt, you made me day!

  44. I am so glad I popped back over here. Matt, you are hysterical.

  45. Things that make me cry:

    1. George.
    2. The deep and abiding kindness of my blog babies.
    3. Matt in Nebraska, and always when he least expects it.
    4. Watching my daughter perform on stage.
    5. When I’m talking to someone and his or her eyes fill with tears, the kind of tears that aren’t weeping, just the kind that flood the irises and let me know what is hidden and unsaid.
    6. When my sister or my daughter is sad, or when they’re moved.
    7. Beauty that catches me off-guard.
    8. A flock of birds suddenly leaving a tree all at once.
    9. All good poetry.
    10. Many, many songs.
    11. Amanda asking me about empathy.

    I could name thousands more.

  46. 1. When Jack says for his birthday he would like for Charlie to actually be able to play with him, like a friend.
    2. Stephany. Her intensity, her writing, her insecurity.
    3. Charlie. When I realize he is mine.
    4. Thinking of my husband as a little boy.
    5. Charlie trying to breathe today. He has asthma.
    6. The trees left on the lot on Christmas Eve.
    7. Babies and children who are abused, neglected, or hurt in anyway.
    8. My brother being alone.
    9. Everytime I stop to think what my sobriety has given me.
    10. bullies

  47. Things that make me cry:

    1. Funerals, even of people I do not know. Just being in the same room with someone who is grieving inspires grief in me.

    2. A great many hymns

    3. When I am afraid that I have failed my children, or someone I love.

    4. Not getting what I want

    5. Getting what I want.

    6. Feeling that my life is somehow magical, and full of daily surprises

    7. Really, nothing anymore. I am a robot.

  48. That was me up there, kiddos.

  49. EVERYONE OF Y’ALL WHO WOULD LIKE A BOOK: send me your full name and address to: RIGHT AWAY. I need to get them out tomorrow or you’ll be reading poetry by me until we all turn into whit leather.


  50. Hmmm, I wish I could write poetry like that. I guess I never have really tried to though … I feel like people who write poetry are apart of some secret club I’m not smart enough to belong to or something.

    Funny you mention Sylvia Path … I was just talking about her to my step-daughter Thursday.

  51. Things that make me cry:

    1. Regret

    2. Longing

    3. Looking up at the top of a tall tree on a dark night lit by the moon to see the branches bend back and forth, back and forth, in the wind. Not really a wind, but a strong, but very silent breeze.

    4. Singing Silent Night by candlelight at the Christmas Eve service

    5. Sitting on a deck in New Harbor, Maine, eating lobster and then looking over into the bay to see a harbor seal poke his/her head up out of the water and look straight at me

    6. Vincent Van Gogh’s brush strokes

    7. Joni Mitchell singing Blue

    8. Watching my children while they are sleeping

    9. Haven’s poetry

    10. George’s stories

  52. Things that make me cry:

    1. Feeling nothing (like today)

    However, I really enjoyed the poetry, it made me have a little tweak to my mouth and I know that when my heart it back I will be able to embrace each word fully. Amanda’s poem – wowee, I know that will be a doozy for me. I’m on shut-down for a few days, it is neccessary to re-boot my heart and brain sometimes. Sunday night I slept for 14 hours. I’ll be back from the dead in a few more days.

    I am excited that I re-read TUW only a few weeks ago . . . hopefully, I will be on top of it by that posting.

    All my love to Haven and you dear Blog Babies . . .

  53. Been missing you lovely Sher. Get some rest. We need you here.

  54. I’m fumbling through – just having after-shocks from my trek to the Midwest.

    It always happens and I never expect it.

    Um, not to mention to shows, 3 halloween costumes (yes my teens STILL trick or treat . . .), I think it is the theatre bug and lure of sugar. Lauren and her bestfriend are going as one SINGLE pumpkin – that costume design had to be created – two holes for heads, but a single hole for their 4 legs. Claire is going as a Unicorn and Dylan as a Court Jester – if you knew these darlings you would say “how apropos!”

  55. Things that make me cry:

    1. Singing the song Amazing Grace in church


  56. Things that make me cry:

    1. Sing the song Amazing Grace in church

    2. The final scene of the Movie The Christmas Story where they have the lights off and it’s snowing outside

    3. Linus’s speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas

    4. Knowing of or seeing any dog left outside in cold weather

    5. Seeing pics of my best friends growing baby belly via email because I don’t live in Indiana anymore

  57. Ohio Amy…my son Linus is named for that exact scene.

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