The Shape of a Dead Man

I have the shape of a dead man
on the wall of my cell.
It was left behind by the last occupant.
He stood against the wall
and traced around himself with a pencil,
then shaded it in.

It looks like a very faint shadow,
it’s barely noticeable until you see it.
It took me nearly a week to notice it for the first time,
But once you see it you can’t un-see it.

I find myself lying on my bunk
and looking at it several times a day.
It just seems to draw the eyes like a magnet.
God only know what possessed him to do such a thing
but I can’t bring myself to wash it off.

Since they executed him,
it’s the only trace of him left.
He’s been in his grave almost five years now,
yet his shadow still lingers.

He was no-one and nothing.
All that remains of him is a handful of old rape charges
and a man-shaped pencil sketch.

(From How to Survive Death Row. Submitted by Lisa Oliver)


There is still snow on the trees; it is that kind of snow.
One sees it out of the windows here
like some extraordinary garden.
It is the kind of snowfall about which girls write verse.

There is an uncommon silence
when I walk Federico to the school bus.
The light is eclipsed and lovely.
One wants to see it all so clearly.

From a journal entry by John Cheever in 1968. The Journals of John Cheever (Vintage Classics, 2010, first pub. 1991), p. 244. Submitted by Thom.

Growth of a Poet’s Mind

We had hurried to the shelter of the alders
alongside the river Derwent, as dark clouds
drifted across the sun and a rain squall
swept through the valley. It passed in minutes,
soon followed by shafts of sunlight that pierced
ever-widening gaps between clouds whose
racing shadows traced the contours of the fellside.

As the wind subsided, the descending scales
of willow warbler song began again
and bumblebees emerged from shelter to feed,
shaking raindrops from the last of the bluebells
and newly opened wood crane’s-bill flowers,
a floral succession that marks the transition
from spring into summer in these woodlands.

Down at our feet a male ghost moth had emerged
from a brown chrysalis half-buried in the soil –
not without struggle judging by the damage
to one of its wings that had still not fully
expanded. It took its first uncertain
steps across wet grass towards the bracken
fronds, where it would remain until nightfall.

Ghost moths are unusual in engaging
in communal courtship displays at dusk,
drawn together in leks by emitting
come-hither scents that are reminiscent
of the aroma of goats. They hover
just above the vegetation, swaying from side
to side as if dangling on the end of a string.

From Country Diary: Blanchland, by Phil Gates in The Guardian. A few words removed for scansion: ‘a’ (line 17); ‘shelter of’ (20); ‘of a dozen of more’ (24); and ‘said to be’ (25). Submitted by Gabriel Smy.

Not in Our Name

There were mutterings that each day grew louder,
signs and portents that we refused to believe.
Local militia were organizing and drilling
getting ready to answer the call should it come.

Not that people thought that it would come.
They believed, as they hoped,
that something would be done to prevent war…….

As for those others who prophesied and prayed for it,
who wanted the vials of God’s wrath uncorked,
they got what they wanted.
Their prayers were answered;
the land was drenched in blood.

But for the most of us
we did not.

Taken from ‘A Virginia Girl in the Civil War, 1861-1865: Being a Record of the Actual Experiences of the Wife of a Confederate Officer’, edited by Myrta Lockett Avary. Submitted by Juliet Wilson.

The morning question

The morning question,
What good shall I do this day?

Rise, wash, and address
Powerful Goodness;
contrive day’s business,
and take the resolution of the day;
prosecute the present study;
and breakfast.


Read, or overlook my
accounts, and dine.


Put things in their places,
supper, music or diversion,
or conversation;
examination of the day.

Evening question,
What good have I done today?


Benjamin Franklin’s daily schedule, from his autobiography which was written between 1771 and 1790. Submitted By Rishi Dastidar