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Lisa Dordal

To Say Something Is Alive Is Not Enough

Because everything is in motion:
bone, ivory, shell. And blood

doesn't hold on to anything
but itself. Because there are worlds

within worlds-geometries 
of ant and whale, girl and boy.

And some infinities are larger 
than other infinities. Because iron filings

can reveal invisible lines of force. 
And my mother's last words were:

help me. Because my father loved 
Lincoln's general-the one who drinks

and still wins the War-and the past 
is a fine skin that does not protect.

And I did not know that loss could be 
so ordinary: my mother reaching

into a cupboard for a glass, saying 
take something, anything.

And I don't know if memory 
is a place or a map of the place.

Only that I did not come this time 
to find her. And I never did ask

what war.

For the Cashier at T.R. Wolfe's Toy and Candy

To enter the pinched interior 
of T. R. Wolfe's Toy and Candy,

was to risk her squint
that branded every kid

a thief. Her hair pulled back 
into a coarse, gray stone,

her face bony and sad-
as we'd tap our fingers

against the counter glass 
to pronounce our choice

of pink cigarettes cloaked 
in sugary smoke. Or,

from the sundry collection 
of jigsaw puzzles lining

the store's high-shelved 
perimeter: our choice

of Barbie and Ken's 
dream house, the cockpit

of a Concorde, UFOs 
over a Midwest wheat farm.

Puzzles that would spread 
like sea garbage

across our bedroom floors. 
How can it be that this

is what was given her? 
Not a pursuit of quiet,

brainy labor: reading the ash 
in Nile River mud.

Or probing the loss 
of an ancient grave-

head to head, a girl and a boy, 
and beads too many

to count. Only this, the daily repetition 
of warm coins passing

from our hands into hers. 
And how can I not admire her

for her refusal to feign 

Whatever it was she wanted, 
getting us instead.



-On the night of December 16th, 2012, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student boarded a bus in New Delhi to return home after watching the film Life of Pi.

The hyena kills the zebra, 
then the orangutan.

The tiger kills the hyena. 
And the boy survives.

Pi is an irrational number. 
And a woman boards a bus.

If horses could draw, 
they would draw one god

in the shape of a horse.
Oxen would draw many,

each with a body like their own.
And the bus is not really a bus.

The relationship 
between the width of a circle

and its circumference 
continues infinitely without

repeating. And Pi is a boy 
who just wants to love

God. If dark matter could draw, 
it would not draw itself.

The human intestine 
is approximately five feet long.

Only five percent of hers 
would remain. They would be called

joyriders. The instrument used was 
metal. The instrument used

was flesh. And the woman,
it was said, died peacefully. 



-from Mosaic of the Dark, Black Lawrence Press 2018, selected by POW Associate Editor, Amie Whittemore



​PROMPT: In "To Say Something Is Alive Is Not Enough," Lisa Dordal creates a powerful and appealing structure of fragments with alternating "sentence starters" "Because" and "And":

          Because everything is in motion: 
         bone, ivory, shell. And blood 

         doesn’t hold on to anything 
         but itself. Because there are worlds 

         within worlds—geometries 
         of ant and whale, girl and boy. 

         And some infinities are larger 
         than other infinities. Because iron filings 

         can reveal invisible lines of force. 
         And my mother’s last words were: 

         help me..."


Take a poem you already working on that is lacking in structure and see if there are any patterns already in the poem that might extended throughout the poem. If there isn't much there, choose two words to repeat throughout the poem like Dordal or come up with a totally random structure like limiting yourself to seven words per line or starting the next line with the last word of the line above it (a poetic form of anadiplosis), is entirely up to you! Whether or not you determine to keep this new structure in the final draft of your poem, playing with various structural approaches in a poem you are working on is sure to pay off in unexpected ways. 


BIO: Lisa Dordal holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Fine Arts (in poetry), both from Vanderbilt University, and she currently teaches in the English Department at Vanderbilt. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and the Robert Watson Literary Prize. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of journals, including Best New Poets 2015, Cave Wall, CALYX, Vinyl Poetry, The Greensboro Review, Nimrod, Sojourners, and The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion.

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