November 09, 2007

Poetry Friday: The Story We Know

The Story We Know

The way to begin is always the same. Hello,
Hello. Your hand, your name. So glad, just fine,
and Good bye at the end. That's every story we know,

and why pretend? But lunch tomorrow? No?
Yes? An omelette, salad, chilled white wine?
The way to begin is simple, sane, Hello,

and then it's Sunday, coffee, the Times, a slow
day by the fire, dinner at eight or nine
and Good bye. In the end, this is a story we know

so well we don't turn the page, or look below
the picture, or follow the words to the next line:
The way to begin is always the same Hello.

But one night, through the latticed window, snow
begins to whiten the air, and the tall white pine.
Good bye is the end of every story we know

that night, and when we close the curtains, oh,
we hold each other against that cold white sign
of the way we all begin and end. Hello,
Good bye is the only story. We know, we know.

- Martha Collins, from The Catastrophe of Rainbows (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1985; reissued 1998)

This is another poem I copied down in high school journal, next to the last stanza of Robert Frost's Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening. More melancholy verses -- today to be shared with the cyberworld and beyond -- at a wrung sponge.


Gina Ruiz said...

Wow! So hauntingly beautiful. Thank you for introducing me to a new poet!

david elzey said...

There's a great loping rhythm to that poem, almost playground sing-song. I think it's great, thanks for that.

Sara said...

How could I have missed this one for so long? It seems like it should be better known than it is. I love the way it wraps back around on itself.

jama said...

Yes, this is very haunting. The matter-of-fact repetition of hello/goodbye really resonates by the time the poem ends.

divatobe said...

how poignant! I need to copy this one down.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I like your Poetry Friday selection. I haven't heard of that poet before. Thanks for the link to her website.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Oh so sad! I love the photo you posted with it. Thanks for the link.

Mary Lee said...

Your poem reminds me of this quote I just ran into in the story "twenty-four hours" by Andrea Offermann in FLIGHT Vol. 4:

What we call the beginning is often
the end, and to make an end
is to make a beginning. The
end is where we start from.

T.S. Elliot

Anonymous said...

I know, logically, that the last sentence is "Hello, goodbye, is the only story. We know, we know." But her line break there is genius, because it makes me read it as if it were like this:

"Hello? Goodbye is the only store we know. We know." Even though that is not what the punctuation says, and I am probably wrong, I pick out that goodbye is the only story we know.

Thanks for sharing this, Tanita.

Love the Eliot quote, Mary Lee.

tanita✿davis said...

I tend to read the last lines of the poem as a poem in itself, so Goodbye is the only story we know is how I read it as well, which is why it makes me immeasurably sad.

And Mary Lee -- I'd never heard the Eliot quote - love that!

Anonymous said...

This one really gave me something to think about. Thanks for sharing it.

Vivian Mahoney said...

This poem makes me sad, too! I've never heard of the poet, and feel sadness that she must have been disappointed too many times...

Becky said...

How lovely. And how wrenching. Martha Collins is new to me too -- thank you.

Anonymous said...

That is lovely. For me it evokes the same resignation I feel going into winter...

(BTW, thank you for visiting my blog! I'm still working out some, um, issues with its functionality.)

Tricia said...

It's Monday and I'm just getting to poetry Friday reading, now that all my guests have left. The house is quiet and I am enjoying every blessed word. Thanks for sharing this one. It is lovely.