In a “storySouth” interview, Barbara Hamby spoke of how she lives the life of a poet:

“The poetry store is always open. I never do anything or have anything happen to me that the thought does not cross my mind—how could I use this in a poem?”

 While other poets might say the same thing, few, if any, would have the courage to mine the past in the way Barbara Hamby does in this valiant work in verse, beautifully presented on the back page of The American Poetry Review this month.  

 It is not a poem for sissies. But then, we are all here at Women’s Voices for Change because courage is one of the middle names we know is ours. You can read more of Ms. Hamby’s work at, but for now join us on the trip that is this one.


Ode to Forgetting the Year


Forget the year, the parties where you drank too much,

said what you thought without thinking, danced so hard

you dislocated your hip, fainted in the kitchen,

while Gumbo, your hosts’ Jack Russell terrier,

looked you straight in the eye, bloomed into a boddhisattva,

lectured you on the six perfections while drunk people

with melting faces gathered around your shimmering corpse.


Then there was February when you should have been decapitated

for stupidity. Forget those days and the ones

when you faked a smile so stale it crumbled like a cookie

down the side of your face. Forget the crumbs and the mask

you wore and the tangle of Scotch tape you used to keep it in place,


but then you’d have to forget spring with its clouds of jasmine,

wild indigo, and the amaryllis with their pink and red faces,

your garden with its twelve tomato plants, squash, zucchini,

nine kinds of peppers, okra, and that disappointing row of corn.

Forget the corn, its stunted ears and brown oozing tips. Forgive

the worms that sucked their flesh like zombies

and forgive the bee that stung your arm, then stung your face, too.


While we’re at it, let’s forget 1974. You should have died that year,

or maybe you did. Resurrection’s a trick

you learned early. And  2003. You could have called in sick

those twelve months—sick and silly, illiterate and numb,


and summer, remember the day at the beach when the sun

began to explain Heidegger to you while thunderclouds

rumbled up from the horizon like Nazi submarines? The fried oysters

you ate later at Angelo’s were a consolation and the margaritas

with salt and ice. Remember how you begged the sullen teenaged waitress

to bring you a double, and double that, pleasepleaseplease.


And forget all the crime shows you watched,

the DNA samples, hair picked up with tweezers

and put in plastic bags, the grifters, conmen, and the husbands

who murdered their wives for money or just plain fun.

Forget them and the third grade and your second boyfriend,

who loved Blonde on Blonde as much as you did

but wanted something you wouldn’t be able to give anyone for years.


Forget movies, too, the Hollywood trash in which nothing happened

though they were loud and fast, and when they were over

time had passed, which was a blessing in itself. O blessed

is Wong Kar Wai and his cities of blue and rain.

Blessed is David Lynch, his Polish prostitutes juking

to Locomotion in a kitschy fifties bungalow. Blessed

is Jeff Buckley, his Hallelujah played a thousand times in your car

as you drove through Houston, its vacant lots

exploding with wild flowers and capsized shopping carts.


So forget the pizzas you ate, the ones you made from scratch

and the Dominoes ordered in darkest December,

the plonk you washed it down with and your Christmas tree

with the angel you found in Naples and the handmade Santas

your sons brought home from school, the ones with curling eyelashes

and vampire fangs. Forget their heartbreaks

and your sleepless nights like gift certificates

from the Twilight Zone, because January’s here,

and the stars are singing a song you heard on a street corner once,

so wild the pavement rippled, and it called you

like the night calls you with his monsters and his marble arms.


Printed with permission of the author.

Barbara Hamby was born in New Orleans and raised in Hawaii. She is the author of four books of poems, including All-Night Lingo Tango, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2009. Hamby received a fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1996. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2000, 2009, and 2010 and the Pushcart Prize Anthology 2001.

In 2010 she was a Guggenheim fellow in Poetry and she also won the Iowa Short Fiction Award for her book of short stories, Lester Higato’s 20th Century. She has been teaching in the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, since 1998. In Spring 2009 she was a visiting professor at the University of Houston. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband, the poet, David Kirby.

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  • elizabeth Hemmerdinger November 13, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Oh, the fake smile so stale it crumbled like a cookie will stay with me always. Thank you for this reflection on a complex life recollection not in tranquility, but on a wonderful zip trip.
    Elizabeth H