Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: ‘Self Portrait with Reader,’ by Kelli Russell Agodon


Self Portrait with Reader

To create is not enough.

We must live with our hearts
in our hands—like Mary.

We must hold the blood-
red heart and not be disappointed
when others look away.

This is the simplest way
to say yes. To say, I am here

giving you what I’m afraid
will scare you, yet I am
holding it in my palms.

Disappear if you have to.

Disappear into the cracks
of the world and call it
an earthquake.  Fear shakes

itself on us and we decide
how much we can take.

Reader, I want to tell you
the hearts we hold will continue
beating even after we leave here.

Be the statue on the dashboard
traveling hopefully,

even if what you hold
drips onto the floorboard, even
if you have no idea where to go.


Previously published in Hourglass Museum (White Pine Press, 2014) and reprinted with permission of the author. Hourglass Museum can be ordered at

Agodon Book Cover_Hourglass Museum_1-1-15


Kelli Russell Agodon’s third collection of poems, Hourglass Museum, was a Finalist in the Washington State Book awards and short-listed for the Julie Suk Poetry Prize honoring the best book of poems published by a small press. She is also the coauthor of The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, O, The Oprah Magazine, Prairie Schooner, New England Review, as well as on “The Writer’s Almanac” with Garrison Keillor’s and in Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times anthology. Kelli is the Cofounder of Two Sylvias Press where she works as an editor and book cover designer and is the Co-Director of Poets on the Coast: A Retreat for Women Poets. She lives in the Northwest where she is an avid paddle boarder and hiker.


Poet’s Note

When working on my book, Hourglass Museum, which is about the yearning to create, I felt that as poets, artists, and human beings, we need to be less afraid in being who we are. I started to explore the idea of being vulnerable in our lives and our art and how important it is to take off the masks we wear to avoid pain. “Self Portrait with Reader” has remained my favorite poem in the book. The first line came to me when thinking about this concept “to create is not enough.” The unsaid portion of that line is “we must be vulnerable in our art.” The image of Mary holding her own heart with outstretched arms seemed to be the exact image of what art is—we are giving someone a piece of ourselves and sometimes, it isn’t pretty, sometimes it’s bloody and beating in our hands, sometimes it’s what’s inside of us that no one ever sees. That image made me think of the “dashboard Marys” placed in cars by drivers to protect them on their journey. This image called to mind poet Nance Van Winckel’s artwork “To Travel Hopefully,” recently used on a recent cover of Crab Creek Review. You can see the artwork here. Nance’s bright colors and lower-half image of the nude woman making her way out into the world inspired the poem’s ideas about our journey as poets and artists, to walk into the world hopefully and as our authentic selves.

Rebecca Foust’s Notes on “Self Portrait with Reader”   Read More »


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