Surprise Poetry Marathon – Day 1

I woke up today feeling behind even before I ate breakfast – I’ve had an event-filled couple of weeks, and I spent this past weekend participating in an art show and getting things back to normal at home after the departure of the painters. Lucky for me, the Poetry Marathon started today, and that always gets things back on track.

I hadn’t decided where I wanted to go, though. I hoped to try some new locations in this set of sessions. But today, I felt in need of a familiar, easy place. Well, Arcadia University Library to the rescue. It’s a 15-minute walk from home and I knew it would be quiet and restful, with the students home for the summer. Also, it promised to be a very hot day, in the nineties, so an indoor location with air-conditioning sounded good to me.

All right. Off I went after lunch. The campus looks beautiful this time of year and the library as welcoming as ever. I decided to work in the reading room upstairs – I really like the sunny airiness of the space.

For this Marathon, since it slipped up on me, I’ve decided to let it surprise me with each day’s activities, too. I planned to spend some time doing the quick, right-out-of-my-head to-the-paper poetry writing that I always do.

For the rest of the time, I had made a numbered list of 5 choices – I have a couple of projects in process, plus some other ideas I wanted to work on. Seems I always have more ideas than I can get to, and these Marathons really give me a chance to see if things might work out, or if I should toss them. Anyway, I wrote the numbers on slips of paper and chose one. Surprise!

Today’s choice involved doing something with notes I had made on my most recent trip to Washington, DC, on the train. I had jotted down observations about people I saw on the trip – just ordinary people. I wanted to write about them the way I saw them – the random grouping that I was part of on this trip.

I’ll do this again. It was really enjoyable to construct a portrait of a certain group of people, just from the limited details I had noted. Each one could stand on its own, I guess, but to me, I like them together inside one structure – because in my memory, they belong with each other.

Remember, this is as I wrote it, not edited much. Fresh out of my recollections…

Rail Passengers Points South of Philadelphia

Man. Middle-aged.
Looking at his phone
gaze traveling
down the length
of his orange tie
to arrive at the screen.
Does not wear glasses in order to
read the information. Does not need to
because of
Arms held out at the shoulders
maybe forty-five degrees
to accommodate
a comfortable-sized
No idea what
is happening around him.
Auditioning for the role
of Crime Victim
Wallet-version, but not called back
this time.

Man. Back view. Strolling on the platform
with no aim but to use up some time.
Walks heel toe. heel toe. in leather-soled shoes.
Suit coat
split at vent
as his hands in pockets
pull it forward. The fabric strains. A slight rip
at the seam
betrays the toll taken
by attempting to hold things together
and the prospect of further difficulty
in doing so.

Woman. On the entrance side
of forty. Smiling. The smile
is unfocused. The smile is for no one.
One knee bent, she stands
in sandals too young for her aching feet
she likes the look of them.

Woman. Will not see sixty again.
Barrel body.
Skinny legs. Blue blouse
over tapered black pants.
At ease with the fit of her clothes
the look
the style. At ease with the weather
the temperature
the crowd around her.
She will read a paperback book
all the way to her destination
fitting exactly and comfortably
into the right now
inconveniencing no one
including herself and in fact
enjoying the trip.

Woman. She is young
but not as young as she would like
others to think. Black print top.
Short skirt. An excess of bare pale
Her pale legs
are what people notice
because they are
Cross-body slouchy bag
in black, expensive,
but not looking it.
underlies this presentation
and it is not convincing
evoking sympathy
rather than admiration

Big man. Big stomach
in a striped Oxford-cloth
shirt. Business-casual
khaki pants. A man who is
used to being hugged
by his children.

Man. Elderly. Stooped in posture.
A tweed jacket
wool, green hound’s-tooth pattern,
too hot for June
but exactly right for this
man. He has worn it for years
It will never wear out
nor change appearance
unlike the man.

Woman. Youngish. She yawns
risking strangling herself
with the green sweater
she has looped around her neck
in an odd twisty manner
but she does not show
awareness of the risk she is taking.
A tiny red purse dangles at her waist
thin strap too long. Hardly room in it
for her ticket and a handful of change
but looks can be
deceiving. She yawns.

Man. Anywhere from
age thirty-five
to age fifty. Thin and tall, just the type
to wear clothes well
setting off his light gray summer suit
sharp creases in the pants
pressed white shirt
neutral tie. Standing
a bit apart from others
next to but not leaning against
a pillar. His business meeting
will be a success. Matters will be handled
with efficiency.

Woman. Has passed
her three score and ten.
Leopard print high heels. Silver bracelets.
Rings on several fingers.
Well-prepared for travel
and her strategies are sound.
she reads the front section of
the Washington Post. Leather tote bag
holding a lap blanket
for later,
when the assault mounted
by the air-conditioning on the train
will necessitate a counter-attack.

Woman. Not young. Not old.
Wrapped in a coral-colored
crocheted shawl
of generous proportions. The stitch pattern
mimics her hairstyle. Or vice-versa.
She murmurs into her phone
in such a confiding manner that
an observer can easily see
it is her best friend.



After I left the library, I decided to take a walk around the campus and revisit Grey Towers Castle, the main building and originally the home on the estate the campus now occupies. Remember, this is a place where only two people lived (in addition, of course, to their army of servants).


18 thoughts on “Surprise Poetry Marathon – Day 1

  1. I love all the gargoyles – and what fitting details for a series of poems about character. Your pen portraits are great – somehow you balance being fairly spare with revealing a lot about each character.

  2. I really enjoy looking at people and trying to figure out what they are about just from a little glance, always have, and so it occurred to me to try it like this. It is challenging to boil it down and to try to be fair, too, while also allowing for a little speculation!

  3. This is a great reminder to jot down these types of observations. I’m always seeing things like this, but then I forget. I like #11.

    I love the gargoyles! When my younger daughter was looking at colleges we went to Arcadia, and I know we went inside the castle, but I don’t remember the gargoyles.

  4. Thank you. The gargoyles are pretty small and on the porte-cochere at the main door of the castle building. The are located in corners inside the structure, you’d notice them as you go in. There are others that are bigger scattered all over the building but these are the closest-to-the- viewer. I always like to visit them when I go to Arcadia – I walk around the campus fairly often.

  5. I’ve always noticed people and made up stories about them, but usually don’t have a reason to make notes or remember them. The idea of doing this occurred to me while on this little trip and it takes only a detail or two to remind me later on of the person, I am finding. Then – the story-making-up starts! I’ll do this again, I loved it.

  6. Yes. That is the thing to do in this kind of endeavor -if you have an idea, well, just try it. I love Poetry marathoning for just that reason – it’s devoted to – indulging myself!

  7. Closely observant, as always. I love the way you do this…disciplined, but with surprises included.
    Both envious and admiring, as always, of the way you put your creativity together. (K)

  8. This reminds me of visiting Niagara Falls for photos, which I tried to do at least once a month while I lived in Western New York. Of course, I would take pictures of the Falls and the fascinating wave patterns in the rapids, but I’d also take photos of the tourists – excited to pose before such a wonder, and concentrating with their cameras as they framed their photos.

  9. Thank you. I like the Marathons for the concentration they enforce. It is so easy for everything to get fragmented in daily life and then – ideas escape and plans never work out.

  10. Yes, I find myself looking at what people are doing when everyone else is looking at the waterfall, or monument, or whatever. Always have found the everchanging array of behavior to be just fascinating. I am by nature an observer, not someone who jumps into the middle of things.

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