Paula Bonnell, “Fooling Around With Words”

Rosalie Boyle / Norma Farber Award, selected by Wendy Drexler
Honorable Mention: Paula Bonnell, “Fooling Around With Words”


Fooling Around With Words

Sestinas always seem false to me,
the same six words, repeating themselves
over and over in an odd pattern
(if patterns can be odd, that is)
like a muttered, half-remembered
refrain impossible to get right.

It’s odd to think of getting verses right.
The question should be, Does it speak to me
in voice and words as true as if remembered
by someone else who might have been myself
or just the voice of “That that is” –
the one who knows, without a pattern?

What could be more untrue than pattern?
Surely Amy Lowell was right.
That that is not is not, is
not that so? A question told me
as a child recurs as now I ask myself
What is invented? what remembered?

They’re kindred faculties, memory
and imagination, both turn and return
to moments when we were ourselves,
so self-forgetful everything seemed right
(the way that moment opened as you touched me:
the clouds, the sun, salt breeze – all that was

before us, dunegrasses stirring – now is
astir within). Outside, no more of -ember,
no more of -ary. March sings to me
of April and of May, a welcome pattern
flutters in with birdsong as these green tips right
themselves, emerge from dirt to be themselves

and sprout and reach and flower, overflow themselves
with blossom. All that’s thawed is
growing, flying, grasping straws that feel right
to build nests with as birds remember
the way they built before, and pattern
varies pattern: the April fool is me.


Paula Bonnell
At fifteen, Paula Bonnell found a small blue book called “The College Book of Verse,” plunged into it, and became consumed with a desire to make her own poems. Years later, intermittent visits from the muse have yielded results pleasing to some discerning readers, so PB may have achieved Terry Malloy’s ambition.