Monday, June 30, 2008


I was reading The Poets Companion today because I’m starting to think already about ideas for teaching creative writing in September and the book has lots of brainstorming exercises. Why I’ve already decided, here at the end of June, to start working on school lesson plans for September I have no idea- what can I say- I’m excited to get started.

Anyway, I was going through the chapter about imagery and came across this poem. I loved it from the start and don’t know how I’ve gone this far without reading it.


by Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickel in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn't say anything.
I took the nickel from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady's eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all

A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl's hand
in mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.

Lots of poems paint pictures, but so few are able to so completely force the reader into the world as this poem does. I was only a few lines in before I started thinking about how nervous I was while walking to meet that girl—and it wasn’t even me! And thinking about that made me remember the first dates and nervous conversations of my teenage years (which I don’t miss at all, by the way). But for a poem to create such perfect image is a rare treat and so I wanted to share it.

I wonder what the woman behind the counter said to the boy, what she silently said to him when he handed her a nickel and an orange instead of the dime that he owed. Somehow, he managed to get his girl her chocolate, so the woman must have understood. But just the fact that I’ve thought this question means that the author managed to make this “story” real to me the reader.

When I write poems, I always try to focus on imagery because it’s one of the few “literary conventions” that really strike a cord with me (in case you can’t tell). I will definitely use this poem as future motivation when I try to paint a clear picture.


Woolley said...

That was very good. I didn't realize how "in to it" I was until she picked up the 10 cent chocolate bar. My stomach literally turned in pity and disappointment for the boy. How is he going to pull that one off?. I was a little nervous for him!

As for the imagery, it was very strong - but I wasn't "expecting" it to be, because it was so easy to read. In my experience (read: very little experience compared to you) in reading poems, the ones that I assumed to have strong imagery I never get because I just get lost in a sea of words and adjectives. And since they were so highly acclaimed for their imagery - I figured I was just too dumb to get it. But this poem is so SIMPLE. Obviously simple works. Maybe simple is the best way to go in poetry.

Joe said...

That's what so great about the modern poets-- they keep things simple for all of us who hate the boring overtly-literary style that is always taught in English classes. It's a real shame that schools don't have classes that read Billy Collins or Tony Hoagland or Robert Bly or Mary Oliver or... well, you get the point.