Thursday, March 18, 2010

End at the End

Not a very snappy title for a prompt but I was playing against the title of a previous prompt 'Begin at the Beginning'... and because I mentioned in another post how difficult it can be to end a poem. Too direct an ending can lock out the reader, prevent them from entering and making the poem their own. Or worse, come across as didactic, or too telling, and no-one wants a finger wagged in their face at the end of a poem. But too oblique an ending can have the reader turning the page wondering if the last few lines have been left off! I've done that myself, while reading poems and stories!

So, what you'll find below is a list of last lines, or the two final lines of a poem you will write. It's a bit like going on a journey and having a destination in mind but not having any idea where you need to start from :)

As you can see, all the endings are taken from published poems but I suggest you write your own before checking to see how the original poet arrived there.

I can comment on upto 2 poems you may choose to post, and I recommend that they're no longer than 40 lines. That's a standard length in poetry competitions so it's not a bad idea to work with that every now and again.

Here are the endings:

1. until one world rings truer than the other.
(Michael Donaghy, 'My Flu')

2. the corpses of angels.
(Carolyn Forche, 'Selective Service')

3. from the root of the old one/ a new one has sprung.
(Grace Nichols, 'Epilogue')

4. you have no place in the world.
(Louise Gluck, 'Mirror Image')

5. I touch/ a flake of his skin.
(Pamela Gillilan, 'Four Years')

6. That astounded me most of all.
(Stephen Dunn, 'Each from Different Heights')

Write well.
L x


Glenn Buttkus said...

Not Your Sister’s Seraphim

Black wings, white wings,
a war in heaven
challenging the foggy fiber
of our catechism; to even consider
that angels can be warriors,
to suggest that they can be executioners
and soldiers in God’s Army,
holding retribution in one hand
and golden rewards in the other
creates conflicting iconography—
Henry Travers as Clarence Oddbody
contrasted with Viggo Mortensen
crouching sinister on a rock wall as Lucifer,
Cary Grant dazzling the bishop’s wife
compared to Christopher Walken’s
manslaying Gabriel—or those gentle
and flawed German angels
in Wim Wender’s films
sacrificing their wings of desire
to their American clones; with Nicolas Cage
paling in Bruno Ganz’s shadow—
hovering in tandem,
Danyael, Simon, Michael and Samayel,
peopling your night’s journey,
screams and laughter mingling

awakening gently
to a soft fluttering in the darkness,
finding a single white feather resting
on your cheek, recalling anew
those heavenly killing fields
littered like brown corn stalks
with the corpses of angels.

Glenn Buttkus March 2010

Glenn Buttkus said...


Damndest thing you could imagine,
your last visceral memory being
that flash,
that concussive sledge hammer,
with the lingering taste
of figs and falafel
on your torn lips,
hearing staccato rifle fire
between the Farsi beats,
the amplified calls
to prayer pounding through
the terrible heat,
seeing the blood sun setting
majestically behind a minaret,
bleeding day into the murk of the Tigris,
a quick glimpse of
two dogs chasing a feral cat,
two boys playing soccer,
two crows dueling over something dead,
the pungent smell of sewer nearby,
goat frying, gun oil,
some forgotten chocolate—
all passing in review on fast forward
as you rise effortlessly
from the operating table,
from ripped up heart shards barely beating,
between the big silver clamps
holding your chest open, up and up to
above the doctors,
above your own body, just this
whiffed smear of ambient light
to the higher self saying
to the soul,
“You have no place in the world.”

Glenn Buttkus March 2010

Glenn Buttkus said...


After my grandfather died,
my grandmother,
aching with her loneliness,
gave me some of his personal effects;
a yellow flannel shirt that had dried
deer blood on the pocket,
always too small for me,
a dangerously sharp straight razor
complete with strop,
a pair of his brown zyl glasses
with flecks of oil paint
still on both lenses,
and a bone hair brush,
laden with some of his hair.

Today is Friday, his death day,
so once more I open the White Owl
cigar box to visit with those
precious heirlooms. Once again
I will notice some
of his long grey hairs
loose in the bottom. One more time
I will pick up a single hair
between my thumb and index finger
holding it up to the light,
anxiously awaiting
the wonderful weeping
which always commences as
I touch
a flake of his skin.

Glenn Buttkus March 2010

Martin Cordrey said...

Rabbit on the A49

Scythed down
by the hot exhaust that passed

over head,
sent into a tumble

with paws out stretched
before it bounces to its toes

to spin and hop and skip
with its eyes towards heaven,

it whirls around
in a waltz with the corpses of Angels,

struts to the side of the road
to lie its fluffy head, exhausted, on the kerb

like a pillow
and that astounded me most of all.

Lu said...

The Grave Covered by Snow

A squirrel in the pine tree,
snow-flattened shrubs
prostrating themselves to the ground,
a few rusty leaves lay lifeless.
The cemetery is very quiet,
tombstones, low and high, crude and grand
stand still in rows, each bearing its own secret.
Silent, only the north wind whistles around,
only the squirrel, jumping from pine to pine
as a few pine needles falling down,
and a few crow’s caws, in the air.
Then he appears,
unshaved for as long as he’s gone.
He is as quiet as the grave,
and light as the squirrel.
Oh, does he see the Christmas-wreath?
Does he know whose foot prints before the tomb?
I extend my hand to touch
a flake of snow,
a flake of his skin.


y said...

in the hour before becoming
magical, you

disconnect all the alarms

tie a knot
into each straying breath

open your eyes

close your eyes

make a bold leap

and ring every telephone in every
dream four times

until one world rings
truer than the other

Cameron D. Mathews said...

Couch Potato

They say anger is a gift.
It is.
I like when you ignore me.
Actually, I prefer it.
That way I can feel something normal.
Turn off your phone.
Let me sit,
back against the couch,
and think about you with me.
There is the hope of happiness.
I am hopeful of smiles
with you
But you won't happen.
In my world,
I want you for you.
Sitting here now,
with my spine along the pillows,
you have no place in the world.

Glenn Buttkus said...


I have seen
a butterfly with a torn wing
flying in endless orange circles—
a three-legged cat that remained
a fighter and hunter—
a dog with its ears cut off
whose affection was still boundless;
all were things of wonder,
but Thursday last I saw
an 84 year old woman decked out
in fur coat and hat, weighed down
with jewelry, standing next to a
card table outside of Safeway
selling Girl Scout cookies—
and I’ll tell you
that astounded me most of all.

Glenn Buttkus March 2010

Glenn Buttkus said...


Time is illusion,
measurement for clouded minds;
for actually it
folds back on itself, constantly
in motion, undulating, twisting,
cosmic helix, and when you
are in possession of galaxy charts
one can travel like thought
through its magnificent folds
from nothingness to universe,
threading star systems
like a stellar spider,
touching down as a planet’s sentience’s
attract you, as your data aligns,
as the astral energy beckons.

It has always been so,
and will continue to be
until one world rings truer
than the other.

Glenn Buttkus March 2010

Erin Lee Ware said...

Afternoon on the Porch

Sitting outside,
I smell your skin—
warm and salty.
Like the earth.
Like sunlight.

The days are growing longer,
plants are greening,
and the ground has thawed.
It feels like rain all the time,
but it hasn’t yet.

We watch a robin in the front yard
—its red belly darker
than the wine in our glasses—
stick its beak into the soft dirt
and come up with a seed.

People say it’s Spring,
and I find myself believing.
The sun sparkling in your eyes,
golds blooming, greens reflecting like a pool—
that astounds me most of all.

Glenn Buttkus said...


Whether it be blackberry blossoms
festooned with thorns,
or a movie star’s children cashing in
the family moniker like a casino marker,
or a politician’s prodigy strutting short
on the world’s stage,
or a rosy-cheeked nephew
conjuring memories of arm wrestling
with your older brother,
or the return of the Monarchs from Mexico
reinstating your need to fly
in some of your dreams,
or those damn weeds snaking
from the fissures they created
in your driveway—
with the arrival of March 21st,
one sparkling insight overrides
the dun doldrums of winter’s blight;
from the root of the old one,
a new one has sprung.

Glenn Buttkus March 2010

Glenn Buttkus said...

"y", aka Yi-Ching Lin. I love your poem here, and would like to share it on my site, FEEL FREE TO READ, but when I followed your signature link back to your site(s), there is not email address for you. I like several of your poems on your site and would like permission to share them; and your photography is awesome too. What is the title of your poem posted here?

Glenn Buttkus said...

I have waited several days
for other respondants here,
but finding none, here is one more shot at one of the "endings":


There I was,
89 years old, living alone
in a crappy apartment
watching “Wheel of Fortune”
when the reaper dropped by
just as I was getting up
to take a piss, applying
his great golden clamp
to my silver-haired chest,
squeezing my lonely heart
until it burst.

I remember the room filling up
with light, and the surprising absence
of pain as I blinked, finding myself
walking along a white path of pebbles
in a dark forest that seemed familiar,
though I didn’t know its name.

I met a traveler on that path,
who was dressed in a leather-fringed
jacket and a New York Yankee’s
ball cap, who had the kindest eyes
I had ever encountered.

We sat in a meadow of lush clover
and I asked him,
“What the hell do you have to smile
so much about?”

“I am your guide through this forest.”

“Wait a damned minute, Slick. I’ve got
coffee brewing and a tom cat to feed and….”

“Not at all, Paul--you are here now, and it
is only part way to your destination.”

“This is a dream, right?”

“Come,” he said, rising to his feet,
“We must go, for you have no place
in the world.”

Glenn Buttkus March 2010

Lynne Rees said...

@ Glen: thanks for your latest poem. In response to your comment that you've been waiting for 'other respondants' can I just say that people respond to prompts on AppleHouse in their own time, or not. Everyone's life is different so I'm happy for people to post regularly, or intermittently, or very occasionally. Or even not at all. I'm happy for people to just pop along and read the blog every now and then too.

@ everyone who has posted a poem on End at the End: I've had a hectic weekend beating off pushy estate agents and trying to retain control of the sale of our own house (!) so my responses to poems are a little late coming. But they'll be here soon.

And I'm going to start April with a slightly different prompt - something to make us think about the decisions other poets might be making, which will, in turn, help us reflect on the decisions we make when making our own poems.

A bientot.

Lynne Rees said...

Some comments for those of you who responded to the prompt 'End at the End':

@ Glen: Not Your Sister's Seraphim - I think the end of this poem is incredibly beautiful, Glen. The tone, pace, language, and also how 'angels' takes on a wider significance than the poem started with. For me, the long first stanza is too long, your ideas might be expressed as effectively with less examples. And the line 'creates conflicting iconography' feels too prosaic and out of register with the language the poem develops towards. I think editing and understating the first part could produce an exceptional poem.

@ Martin: Rabbit on the A49 - I think this is working quite well, Martin. I like how you slow down what must have happened really quickly, ask us to really SEE the detail. Your line and stanza breaks add tension to keep us reading. The 'corpses of Angels' image doesn't feel integrated enough to me; it stands out as decoration rather than illuminating an idea/truth. And perhaps 'fluffy' adds a touch of sentimentality that the poem doesn't need?

Now, I know the aim of this prompt was to write towards the given end line. And your line here is effective, but now, perhaps, there's a need to land the poem for yourself? I think the end needs another couplet, perhaps something that connects the observed scene to the human experience of the narrator? Or something else...

@ Lu: The Grave Covered by Snow - your precise detail creates a vivid and atmospheric scene, Lu, and I think you could trust it to communicate with the reader without adding any statement/qualifiers. Take a look at the following. I've edited out the pieces, that I felt were redundant, from your opening:

A squirrel in the pine tree,
snow-flattened shrubs
a few rusty leaves lay lifeless.
Tombstones, low and high, crude and grand
stand still in rows, each bearing its own secret.
Only the north wind whistles around,
only the squirrel, jumping from pine to pine
as a few pine needles fall
and a few crows caw.

I'm not saying it should be like this - I just wanted to give you an idea of how it works for me.

Using 'Oh' in a contemporary poem is, I feel, always risky (it can seem archaic or melodramatic) but it works for me here. The 'oh' is like an intake of cold air, a gasp. And I really like how you close the poem - the imagery is beautiful and full of grief at the same time.

Back with a few more comments soon.

Lynne Rees said...

And a few more comments:

@ y : in the hour before becoming/ - there are some lovely hesitations created by line breaks at the beginning and end of this poem. I particularly like the break at the end of the first line which holds me in expectancy. It's a mysterious and enigmatic poem that doesn't fully give itself up to me, but the imagery is so engaging that I'm happy to ponder its meaning. I do get a sense of searching from the poem - the ringing of telephones - and of trust - the bold leap and the disconnection of alarms. I like it a lot.

@ Cameron: Couch Potato - I've spoken earlier about effective line breaks that read over to the next line, and here we have the opposite: end stopped lines. And these stop us abruptly at the end of each one, as if we might be hitting a wall, something hard. And I think that works really well with the emotional tone of this poem, Cameron. The language is generally spare, direct... with a softer approach in the middle with the gentler lines:

There is the hope of happiness.
I am hopeful of smiles
with you

But we then return to the brittle end stopped line of:

But you won't happen.

This is a really good example of free verse form reflecting content.

@ Erin: Afternoon on the Porch - I like the development in this poem very much. How it moves from a particular relationship in the 1st stanza, to the landscape in the 2nd, then a specific parallel drawn between nature and the human experience (robin/wine) in the 3rd, which develops further in the final one.

I wondered if the last stanza could be rearranged somehow so the sense of 'believing' can refer to both believing in Spring and in the other person? Ending on that line might be enough? Perhaps moving the opening lines of that stanza to the end? An idea anyway. But I still like the poem a lot.

And finally, @ Glen: Hovercraft - the accumulation of detail is wonderful, Glen, recreating a specific place and mood, and, at the same time, reinforcing a sense of what has been lost from this life. I don't know if you're familiar with the short story 'Bullet in the Brain' by Tobias Wolff? If you're not, try googling it. It explores, like you do here, 'brain-time' where so much is recollected in such a miniscule amount of time.

I think you could get way with cutting:

all passing in review on fast forward

because you set up the scene and lead the reader through what's happening very well. So there's no need to be so explicit. And, personally, I'd like the end to be more understated... the mention of 'higher self' and 'soul' might be overcrowding and edging towards a bit of a drum roll ending. And, for me, the poem is powerful enough without that. One last thing - I love the synesthesia in:

whiffed smear of ambient light

and it feels particularly appropriate for this moment. Not that I have any evidence that the senses can merge at the point of death, but it still makes poetic sense. Great poem. Do you think there's a better title though? I think there probably is.

I'll be back in a few days with the first prompt for April.
L x

Anonymous said...

dear Lynne - i appreciate your thoughtfulness in commenting since it sounds like you have a lot to juggle. thank you for creating this place. - best, y

Lu said...

Thank you Lynne. I'm taking your suggestions in my rewrite.

Thanks again for your time and help. Appreciated.


Glenn Buttkus said...

Thank you very much for your generous and astute comments. One thinks, foolishly, that they have
blue penciled enough, and then along comes the "objective eye" and something new emerges, another
view--and in your case, as a teacher, you find the perfect way to share what you consider will be improvements on the purity and clarity of the poetics. I agree with Yi-Ching, your site is a godsend for poets and people.

Martin Cordrey said...

Rabbit on the A49

Scythed down
by the hot exhaust that passed

over head,
sent into a tumble

with paws out stretched
before it bounces to its toes

to spin and hop and skip
with its eyes towards heaven,

it whirls around in a waltz
like a child with a rag doll,

struts to the side of the road
to lie, exhausted, on the kerb

like my little girl on her pillow,
closes her eyes and falls asleep.

[hope this is not too much]

Mary Rose said...

Your Presence

I didn’t think
when you died
I could survive
without you
but I don’t have to. You are there
beside me.
I can talk to you
as I walk alone.
The warm hand that clasps
my frozen one is yours, real.

You are with me in the garden you love,
standing beside me
as we find the spotted leaves
rising above the soil,
among the tangle of grass and weeds,
the wild orchid.
This is where you are, not
beneath the plaque bearing your name,
concealing your ashes,
in the quiet churchyard.

At night I do not feel your empty pillow
beside me, knowing you sleep soundly,
at peace.
I look back from my fourth year, alone
yet not alone, in the home
we still share, to find I have survived.
That astounded me most of all.

Fran said...


I could spit, if my tongue weren’t as sand
And the energy of my beauty
Had not been stolen from me
As I dozed among the golden thrones.

Now the silken caresses of winged lovers
Are but memories, and I hear no music.

I breathe in, and smell dank earth
And the favoured shit of men and beasts.
My sandals rub at my soft feet now.
My robes hang like deserted women.

I sit among the ashes of my ambitions
And the corpses of angels.

bandit said...

How are you, Ms Rees?

from the outlook
of suicide bridge
the eagle's rock
it was there
they ground my teeth
into dust
carried away
by shining winds
to float forever
never to rest again
to have no place
in the world

bandit said...

or maybe-

from the outlook
of suicide bridge
the eagle's rock

it was there
they ground my teeth
into dust

carried away
by shining winds
to float forever

never to rest
to have no place
in this world

bandit said...

line 9: "to drift forever"

Lu said...

Crippled Sparrow

Walking through the dusk,
we spotted a brown sparrow,
on the grass, chirping coarsely,
limping when it saw us
approaching. My daughter cupped
it up in her hands, took it home,
tended it with a few seeds, some water
and comforted it in a cage
by the window.

Morning was broken
by a swarm of sparrows swooping
around the house, bumping against
the glass pane, calling, shrieking
as if to break into to rescue
the hostage.
With a bang, a small body
from the collision with the window,
and then, another,

That astounded me most of all.
I set the bird free.


Lynne Rees said...

Lovely to see and read a few more poems added to this prompt.

Mary Rose - your poem had me on the edge of tears. It is so moving, so sad, but at the same time shows such strength of spirit, and acceptance too. There are lovely internal rhymes here, and some of your line breaks are superb. And it works so well with the given closing line. You must be very pleased with this. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

@ Fran - 'Fallout' - what a powerful persona poem! The voice is pulsing with consistent energy. And I love your language choices and imagery too - 'my robes hang like deserted women' is just so fresh and vital. Stunning.

@ bandit - hello there. I'm fine, thanks. This short poem is strong. A kind of epitaph written by the deceased... the violence in the middle lines is counterpointed by a sense of reward in the image of the 'shining winds'. I like it. It's enigmatic, and I don't know who is talking, or perhaps the significance of the place, but I still like it. The voice has a sincerity, and I believe it. I think I prefer the one block to the tercets... it doesn't benefit emotionally from being broken up... the voice becomes a little hesitant, for me. 'drift' v 'float'? Hmmm... 'drift' suggests lack of control... 'float' seems to contain an element of choice... it depends what you want to suggest.

Lu - hello to you. Thanks for posting. This is a startling event! And definitely deserves writing about, but I wonder if a poem is the most effective vehicle for it. It has the potential, I think, as a controlling metaphor for a short story... perhaps to do with conflict in a family... just brainstorming here. Perhaps there's not enough suggestion in the poem, as it is, and that's why I can see it as a vehicle for an idea in prose fiction where the surrounding text would give it greater significance. I hope that makes sense : )

bandit said...

Thanks, Lynn,

I'm pretty much clueless as to, metrics, ah, geez, can't think of it, meter and accents...

Write a lot of haiku...I think in terms of rhythm, a tercet must be a unit of words.

I'll take your critique seriously, including 'float vs drift'-I guess I meant to convey aimlessness, powerlessness.

Lynne Rees said...

Sorry, bandit... I should remember to explain some terms... tercet is a three line stanza/verse.

Albert said...

Again I apologise for an out of date posting. But here is my contribution for "End at the End"

Ours was a very short affair

I read her body with my fingertips
And asked:
"If love is blind then what is lust?
Deaf and dumb?"
She answered:
"Deaf to everything but its own voice.
And considering our circumstances definitely dumb."
And that astounded me most of all.

Albert said...

Again I am sorry for this late posting. However here is my contribution for "End at the End".

Ours was a very short affair

I read her body with my fingertips
And asked:
"If love is blind then what is lust?
Deaf and dumb?"
She answered:
"Deaf to everything but its own voice.
And considering our circumstances definitely dumb."
And that astounded me most of all.

Lynne Rees said...

Hello again, Albert - Ours was a very short affair - I like this poem a lot. It's witty and thought-provoking. Maybe the provided last line helped you create the poem, but I don't think you need it now. It might be too firmly closing the poem... perhaps just cut it, or think about another last line, something that returns to the physical world of the poem, maybe? The body, the sense of touch?

Hope to see you on AppleHouse again.

Fran said...

Thanks for that great feedback, Lynne. You've certainly got me interested again in writing my own poems with your exercises. I bought a book while I was away last week called 'Women's Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English', ed Eva Salzman and Amy Wack, published by a Welsh press called Seren. It's such a good collection. I'd recommend it.

Mary Rose said...

To Lynne
Hi and sorry I’ve been so long.
Very many thanks for your comments on
my entry Presence under the “End at the End” prompt.
Your words
were most encouraging