In the Wild Light: A Review

“Because for every way the world tries to kill us, it gives us a way to survive. You just gotta find it.”

“Every hurt, every sorrow, every scar has brought you here. Poetry lets us turn pain into fire by which to warm ourselves. Go build a fire.”

In the Wild Light by Jeff ZentnerNothing in Cash’s life has been easy in Sawyer–his small Appalchian town. His mother died because of her opioid addiction when Cash was a child. Now, as a teen, Cash is watching his Papaw deteriorate from emphysema while he and his Mamaw are powerless to help. Cash knows he’s lucky to have his grandparents at all, to be on the river he loves, to have his summer work mowing lawns, to have these small pieces of safety and stability.

Sometimes it feels like the one bright spot is his best friend, Delaney. But Cash has always known Delaney will eventually leave–that’s what happens when your best friend is a genius. When Delaney discovers a life-changing bacteria-eating mold in a cave, Cash knows she’s headed for better things. Without him. And even sooner than he expected when she receives a full scholarship to Middleford Academy, an elite boarding school in Connecticut.

Except Delaney has plans of her own. None of which include leaving Cash behind. When Delaney tells Cash a scholarship is his for the taking he will have to choose between an unimaginable opportunity with the best friend he’s ever had and his love for his grandparents and the only place he’s ever called home.

As Cash grapples with everything he has to let go, he’ll remember everything worth holding onto and learn new ways to dream bigger in In the Wild Light (2021) by Jeff Zentner.

Find it on Bookshop.

Zentner’s latest novel can be read as a standalone but is set in the same world as all of his other novels. The story here is most closely connected to Goodbye Days with direct references to those characters. Cash and Delaney are white, secondary characters include Cash’s new friend Alex who is Korean-American (and also on scholarship) and Delaney’s Brazilian roommate Vi who is wealthy leading to thoughtful commentary on income diversity throughout the novel. Cash’s poetry-teacher-turned-mentor is queer and she and her wife also play key roles in the plot.

Cash’s first person narration is eloquently introspective as he describes the river and nature he dearly loves but less self-aware when it comes to identifying his own wants and, as his world expands at Middleford Academy, understanding what he needs to continue growing.

Cash is keenly aware of his past traumas and how they have shaped him and his loved ones in a small town where poverty is high and many have fallen victim to the opioid epidemic as he describes them, “Here we are, survivors of quiet wars.” At the same time, Cash and especially his Papaw and Mamaw are free with their affection, their praise, and their unconditional love. In a world where toxic masculinity is still so dangerous it is refreshing and powerful to see a teenaged boy given space to cry and grieve and feel while also seeing the same things in his grandfather.

While Delaney is eager to start fresh, Cash is hesitant to embrace this new chapter and let himself imagine a world beyond his quiet life with his grandparents. Even as he makes new friends, joins crew, and discovers an unexpected passion for poetry, he’s still waiting for the ground to fall out from under him the way it always does–a fear that will resonate with readers who have struggled with unpredictability and chaos in their own lives. On first glance, I don’t have much in common with Cash, so it was a surprise when I identified so deeply with his story, his grief, and his dread of the next calamity. When Cash says “I have nothing in my life that isn’t falling apart,” I felt it in my bones.

In the Wild Light is a quiet, meditative story about nature, poetry, love, and all of the things that can save us. In the Wild Light is a resonant story about healing; the perfect book to see you through a rough season.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu, The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg, Required Reading for the Disenfranchised Freshman by Kristen R. Lee, An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, This Golden State by Marit Weisenberg

Poetically Speaking: How to Triumph Like a Girl by Ada Limon

“How to Triumph Like a Girl” by Ada Limón

I like the lady horses best,
how they make it all look easy,
like running 40 miles per hour
is as fun as taking a nap, or grass.
I like their lady horse swagger,
after winning. Ears up, girls, ears up!
But mainly, let’s be honest, I like
that they’re ladies. As if this big
dangerous animal is also a part of me,
that somewhere inside the delicate
skin of my body, there pumps
an 8-pound female horse heart,
giant with power, heavy with blood.
Don’t you want to believe it?
Don’t you want to lift my shirt and see
the huge beating genius machine
that thinks, no, it knows,
it’s going to come in first.


Ada Limón is a widely known poet whose work straddles the line between being known both in writerly circles (thanks to her numerous accolades and awards) and more broadly (thanks to social media).

You can find and buy her books on

Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t featured anything by Ada Limón before now for Poetically Speaking. It feels like an egregious oversight considering how many of her poems cross my path via social media and just browsing for poems online (as one does). So as I was looking for poems to highlight this year during National Poetry Month, I knew I wanted to feature something by Limón. But which poem to choose? I hadn’t read “How to Triumph Like a Girl” before and when I first saw it online, I admit I wasn’t sure about it. But like all good poetry, this one got under my skin. I kept thinking about it. And that, I knew, was reason enough to share it.

I love the way a poem can build and the way that where a poem starts isn’t always the same as where it ends. What begins as broad observations narrows and sharpens by the end. What at first seems like an offhand conversation turns into something else as Limón ably shifts the narrative.

I’m always a sucker for a good last line and this poem is no exception. When writing booktalks for work one of my friends advises that the last line should echo–it should have resonance and stay with the listener. That’s what comes to mind for me when I read the final couplet here. I especially like the certainty and sense of inevitability as you read “it’s going to come in first” that makes it clear there was never any other outcome worth considering.

Check back every Friday in April for a new Poetically Speaking post. Until then, you can also browse older posts (and guest posts) for more poetry.

Poetically Speaking: What I See When I Stare Long Enough into Nothing by Jeremy Michael Clark

“What I See When I Stare Long Enough into Nothing” by Jeremy Michael Clark
(With a line borrowed from Ada Limón)

A screen door easing shut:
the only way I can describe
this creaking in my knees.
It’s when I’m alone that this pain
is easy to hear. I haven’t been
a child in years yet here I go,
discussing the past again.
I’ve been told what happened to me
doesn’t define me, matters less
than the narrative I tell. At night
I rub coconut oil into my skin,
over the scar on my arm
in the shape of a garden
snake. I can tell it
disappoints you, how I can’t recall
its origin, but trust me, it doesn’t
matter now. Seeping through my fingers
the oil reminds me of rain,
how at first it gently settles
into soil. Unless there’s a storm,
at which point picture a child,
ignoring what they’ve been told,
who finds a way to ruin
their shoes. And picture a mother,
relieved when finally her child
returns. Even if he leaves
the door ajar. Even if he leaves
footprints on the floor.


I came across “What I See When I Stare Long Enough Into Nothing” while searching for poems to feature during National Poetry Month under a search for “Ada Limon.” What a happy accident for me.

Isn’t it strange how aging can sneak up on you? How the wear and tear accumulates on this body carrying you through the world? I have had what would be called “bad knees” for a while now. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it on the blog but my mom and I were hit by a van in 2013–it backed into us while we were waiting to hail a cab (in front of a hospital, because of course). I landed on my knees and while they don’t hurt every day anymore, they always know when it’s going to rain. It’s a weird experience. One that I think about more than I’d like to and more than I need to, but also one that in many ways is key to me being the person I am now. The idea that these things that happen shouldn’t define a person, that you should be able to choose the story you tell speaks to me and speaks the way you can parse the information you share about yourself; the way you can curate the way you share yourself with the world.

I love the subtlety of Clark’s lines here and the way the narrative shifts from creaking knees to a scar and the quiet question of whether he really can’t recall the origin of the scar or simply chooses not to. And then the narrative of the poem shifts again to a contemplation of memory and time.

I have always had a soft spot for poems that shine a light on nostalgia. I especially like this one for the way it explores the specific ache of a moment passing while you watch. You can feel the narrator’s wistful remembering in every word here and the way it’s emphasized with linguistic choices “Seeping through fingers” as time passes. But most of all here I love the imagery and the way that, by the end of the poem, you feel like you really can see those footprints on the floor.

Check back every Friday in April for a new Poetically Speaking post. Until then, you can also browse older posts (and guest posts) for more poetry.

Poetically Speaking: Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you hear the name William Shakespeare?

For me, the immediate answer is “poet.”

Considering the iambic pentameter of his plays, it makes sense that Shakespeare was also a brilliant poet who wrote 154 sonnets over the course of his lifetime. In each sonnet, he drew out beautiful imagery and sentiments from the rigid form that follows a specific line structure and rhyme scheme.

One of my favorite Shakespeare sonnets, one I refer to often when trying to improve my own writing, is Sonnet 130.

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

Like the best poems, Sonnet 130 is layered. Instead of showering his mistress with false comparisons, the narrator suggests that he loves her all the more fiercely for seeing her clearly–a beautiful thought that is as relevant today as it would have been in Shakespeare’s own lifetime. The interplay between what is overtly stated and what is left unsaid here works as a primer for how to write and how to do it well. This sonnet never calls the subject of the poem beautiful or any other niceties. Still, by the end, it’s impossible to think the narrator feels anything but a deep love for the subject.

Sonnet 130 challenges everything readers think they know about love poems–and it does so with humor. Being a sonnet is impressive enough, but also being funny and conversational? Being timely and relevant while being more than four hundred years old? Astonishing.

Like a magician diverting the audience’s attention, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 is a misdirect of sorts as he uses simple language and plain ideas to give voice to an abstract concept. And, really, isn’t that the standard to which every poem, not to mention every writer, should strive?

This post originally appeared on Books Take You Places in 2015 as part of the Bard on the Blogs series.

Check back every Friday in April for a new Poetically Speaking post. Until then, you can also browse older posts (and guest posts) for more poetry.

The Words We Keep: A Review

The Words We Keep by Erin StewartThree months after the Night on the Bathroom Floor, high school junior Lily Larkin feels like her life is falling apart. Because it is.

On the Night on the Bathroom Floor Lily found her older sister Alice hurting herself. Alice hasn’t been home since. And Lily has been struggling to fill all of the Alice-shaped gaps she left behind.

If Lily can do enough at home, get good enough grades at school, make it to State in track, get into UC Berkeley, and keep doing everything right it will all be okay. Her family needs a win and all Lily has to do is keep winning.

Except Lily feels like she’s starting to lose it. She’s uninspired, overwhelmed, and struggling to hide all of it from her family and her friends.

When she’s partnered with a new student who knows all about the Night on the Bathroom Floor, Lily is worried Micah Mendez will reveal all of her family’s secrets. Instead, he might be the one person who can help Lily find her way back to herself in The Words We Keep (2022) by Erin Stewart.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lily and her family (and most secondary characters) are presumed white. Micah is Mexican American.

The Words We Keep is Stewart’s second novel and I wish I could recommend but I can’t. Read on for a discussion of some of the issues I had with this book including spoilers:

Continue reading The Words We Keep: A Review

Poetically Speaking: I Am Always Trying to Make My Poems Timeless by Olivia Gatwood

“I Am Always Trying to Make My Poems Timeless” by Olivia Gatwood

I’m always talking
around technology
like I get all of my information
from the dusty stacks
at the university library.

Like I know the man’s last meal
by heart. Like mentioning an iPhone
makes me a bimbo or something.

What I’m trying to say
is that honestly,
I think the stakes in Clueless
are higher than they are in Star Wars.

I think Cher preserving her Alaïa
red dress while getting robbed
at gunpoint is literally life or death,
while the galactic war is whatever,
because it isn’t even, like, real.

Honestly, I found the man my mom
had an affair with on Facebook.
I know your ex just graduated from
Nursing School. I think I’m prettier
than all of her prettiest photos.

I don’t write poems in my journal
because it takes too long.

I’m always like, I’m gonna delete my Facebook
but how will I know about the events happening
near me that I’m never gonna go to?

A rogue dream. Me, in a lilac dress
with an open back showing up on your doorstep.
I am holding your favorite Moscato.
I am holding your favorite fruit.
I am holding you hand as you lead me
through the house to the backyard.
No one was expecting me
but everyone is relieved I am here.
I am dressed perfectly for this weather.
I am so glad I chose this outfit.

I know exactly how to dance to this music.
I left my phone on the counter
in my apartment and I haven’t
reached for it once. I walked here with no map.
I ate the perfect breakfast for day drinking.
I am better than you. I smell just a little.

When the sky goes dark, I’ll shift
to an evening look with only a leather jacket
and a swoop of liquid eyeliner,
like the magazines promise
you are capable of doing.
Everything is so easy. I love my friends.

Let me tell you the truth, for once.
I don’t socialize because I’m afraid

I’ll disappoint people. I have spent
so many hours talking on the phone.
I still love chat rooms. The only thing I trust
about myself is how good I am at words.
I can make anyone fall in love with me,
as long as they aren’t close by.


Like a lot of the best things, I heard about Olivia Gatwood via word of mouth when VE Schwab shared on Instagram that she was reading Gatwood’s poetry. I immediately checked out her collections from the library and have been thinking about them ever since. This poem appears in Gatwood’s collection Life of the Party. You can find Gatwood’s work online and buy her books on

You can watch Gatwood read other poems from that collection here:

I have been saving this post in a draft since last year because I knew I wanted to share this poem for Poetically Speaking. I have a soft spot for modern poetry and free verse (likely because my own poems fall into both categories) and I really love how relatable Gatwood’s work is even though we have different life experiences (as most people do since we are all unique and contain multitudes).

In this one I really appreciate the way she interrogates so many of those “perfect girl” stereotypes by showing what might be at play behind them. As a person who often suspects she is better on paper, the ending packs such a punch for me, especially that last couplet: “I can make anyone fall in love with me,
as long as they aren’t close by.”

Check back every Friday in April for a new Poetically Speaking post. Until then, you can also browse older posts (and guest posts) for more poetry.

Books to Read For National Poetry Month (And Any Other Month)

Books to Read For National Poetry Month (And Any Other Month)

April is National Poetry Month. I try to share poetry throughout the month in my Poetically Speaking series here on the blog. This year, I thought I’d also share some of my favorite poetry collections and verse novels to read this month and all year to add more poetry to your life.

You can shop the full list at Bookshop and Amazon.


Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Diaz’s work interrogates the erasure of indigenous peoples in America while making space for new stories.

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
Are you like me and discovered Amanda Gorman and her work after she delivered her poem at the 2021 presidential inauguration? If the answer is yes, you will be as happy as I am to find this collection of some of Gorman’s other works.

Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood
Gatwood is one of my favorite poets and, while grim, this is one of the most cohesive collections of poetry I’ve seen. Loosely inspired by Gatwood’s own interest in true crime this is a sharp, feminist collection that will stay with you.

Poisoned Apples: Poems For You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
In this collection Hepperman presents 50 poems that bring fairy tale themes and ideas together with the lives of modern girls in clever ways. Eerie photographs accompany the poems to lend a haunting quality to this deceptively slim volume.
Read my review.

the sun and her flowers by rupi kaur
Kaur’s collections are and interesting combination of artwork and poetry. Sparse verse and line drawn art work well to complement each other in this visually oriented collection.

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón
I love Limón and no poetry roundup would be complete without one of her collections.

the princess saves herself in this one by amanda lovelace
There are a lot of entry points to amanda lovelace’s work but this collection is still one of my favorites. I love the empowerment and the way the poems play with traditional fairytale imagery.

Verse Novels:

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Can you know a sister you have never met? Can you claim a family that doesn’t know you? As Camino and Yahaira come to terms with their father’s lies and transgressions both girls will have to grieve everything they have lost while they try to understand what they have to gain in this verse novel that pulls no punches as it tells the story of a complicated family with immediacy and care.
Read my review. (Want even more Acevedo? Be sure to check out The Poet X too.)

500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario
What happens when your attempt to be a better person might be making you worse? To revamp her reputation with her Ivy League obsessed classmates, Nic Chen has a simple plan: she will write college admission essays. For a price. But as Nic learns more about her classmates, she realizes she still has a lot to learn about herself and her moral compass in this shining verse novel.
Read my review.

Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu
This verse novel introduces readers to the Dovewick family and tackles the isolation and loss of the pandemic (specifically 2020’s quarantine months) while also exploring what it means to carry generational trauma. A powerful, ultimately healing story that is easily my favorite book of the year.
Read my review. Read my interview with Corey about the book.

Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
Rome, 1610: Artemisia Gentileschi had limited options when her mother died at twelve. She could join a convent or she could work in her father’s studio grinding paint, preparing canvases, and modeling as needed. She chose art. McCullough beautifully details Artemisia’s passion and commitment to her art in this verse novel that follows Artemesia’s teen years and continues through her rape by Agostino Tassi and the subsequent trial.
Read my review. Read my interview with Joy about this book.

After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy
This book explores a love triangle from two sides and dual POV and verse. It’s also one of the older ones featured but I had to included it because this book is such a key part of my blog. Terra was the first author I ever interviewed and in many ways this book inspired what eventually became Poetically Speaking.
Read my review. Read my interview with Terra about this book.

Amber & Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz
What begins as a story about a spoiled girl and a common boy becomes, in the author’s capable hands, a much larger commentary on art, friendship, and identity as we watch Melisto and Rhaskos transform, becoming “the girl as electric as amber, the boy, indestructible as clay” in this richly layered verse novel.
Read my review.

Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe by Carole Boston Weatherford
Everyone knows about Marilyn Monroe’s difficult life and tragic end. Few people know the traumatic start of her life watching her mother struggle with schizophrenia, moving through foster care, and even teen marriage. While evidence of her transition from brunette pin-up model to blonde bombshell is immediately obvious, the road that got her there has never been explored from her own perspective. Until now.
Read my review.

Poetry-Infused Stories:

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Paul is gone and with him pieces of Emily are gone too. Even before his suicide, Emily knew she would never be the same. She just didn’t know it would hurt this much. Vacillating between guilt and anger, Emily Beam is sent to an all girls boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Surrounded by history from Emily Dickinson’s life, Emily delves into poetry and her new life hoping to escape.
Read my review.

Undercover by Beth Kephart
Kephart uses poetry and prose to tell a layered story about love in all of its forms whether for family, friends, nature or even for words in this book that is partly a retelling of the play Cyrano De Bergerac and partly something entirely unique.
Read my review.

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
This story is told entirely through Gabi’s diary entries as she navigates an especially complicated year in her life as many long-standing problems come to a head including her father’s addiction and Gabi’s mother’s disapproval of Gabi’s plans to go away to college.
Read my review.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein
Readers who are up to the task of a difficult read with darker subject matter will find a powerful story in Rose Under Fire with an incredibly strong and inspiring heroine at the center of its story.
Read my review.

Lawless Spaces: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

It is
too much and
I get a zap
of when we were in quarantine
and I missed both the life I had been living
and the future one that felt impossible
and the ones I’d never lived but should have. I had so
much time

Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann HayduThe Dovewick women have always had complicated relationships with their pasts. Maybe that’s why the tradition of the notebooks started. No one knows anymore. It’s expected, though.

As Mimi struggles to find a way to connect with her mother–always withdrawn, always a little cold–she wonders if being a Dovewick daughter is another name for being a disappointment. No wonder she prefers to be @MimiDove. She can curate who she is online. She can show people the best pieces. The ones that don’t make anyone ask her why she’s so short, why she wore that top; online Mimi can share the pieces that won’t ever show how she turned sixteen alone, how her mother’s boyfriend barely tolerates her presence.

Mimi has always known about the notebooks kept by every woman in her family. She’s seen them all lined up on the mantle. All the girls in all the pictures that bleed together as background noise.

Writing in her own notebook is daunting. But it’s also a place where, finally, Mimi can present an unvarnished version of herself. One that is allowed to be scared and hurt, one that is allowed to miss all of the things she never really had.

Mimi doesn’t like to think about the past. She doesn’t like to think about what happened before or what her mother said after. She tries to ignore the sexual assault case that’s all over the news, tries to make it more background noise. Until her mother comes forward as an accuser.

Suddenly, Mimi feels like she doesn’t recognize her mother or her own life. As she digs through the old notebooks she finds her mother’s story, her grandmother’s, her great-grandmother’s. So many Dovewick women. All navigating the same confusing space between girl and woman, absorbing the same hurts as daughters, hoping they’ll learn how to be better mothers.

Looking to the past gives Mimi strength to understand a lot of truths about her own life and her relationship with her mother. But before she can look ahead, she’ll have to decide who she wants to be and how she wants to navigate this confusing world in Lawless Spaces (2022) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lawless Spaces is a standalone novel in verse. The primary story follows Mimi in 2022. Readers also encounter Mimi’s ancestors as Mimi unearths stories from Betty (1954) and Tiffany (1999), among others. Mimi and her family are white. Despite tackling so many voices and time periods, each girl’s voice remains as distinct as her story–even as common themes like loneliness begin to come through.

Through Mimi and her family, Haydu’s sophisticated verse addresses the damaging legacy of the male gaze while looking through a smaller lens focused on the fractured relationship between a daughter and her mother. It’s a story about what happens when you realize you have to save yourself because the grownups who were supposed to keep you safe can’t even protect themselves.

Lawless Spaces is a timely, forward-facing story that tackles the isolation and loss of the pandemic while also telling an entirely different story about what it means to carry generational trauma. Powerful, ultimately healing, and very highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne, One Great Lie by Deb Caletti, Unbecoming by Jenny Downham, You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories by Janet Gurtler, An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, 13 Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, Seton Girls by Charlene Thomas, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

You can also check out my interview with Corey about this book.

Poetically Speaking: I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340) by Emily Dickinson

This year I’m bringing back Poetically Speaking for National Poetry Month (April) to discuss some of my favorite poems. Today’s poem is “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, (340)” by Emily Dickinson:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –
And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –
I honestly can’t believe I hadn’t talked about this poem before! I love Emily Dickinson. She is always timely and resonant and that is such an amazing thing when you think about how long ago she lived. I think about this poem a lot when I have a headache or raw nerves. The imagery is so powerful and so evocative and, of course, the word choice is always stunning. There isn’t really a bad line here but “Wrecked, solitary, here -” is one that lives in my head rent free.

Poetically Speaking: Myth by Muriel Rukeyser

This year I’m bringing back Poetically Speaking for National Poetry Month (April) to discuss some of my favorite poems. Today’s poem is “Myth” by Muriel Rukeyser:

Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the
roads. He smelled a familiar smell. It was
the Sphinx. Oedipus said, “I want to ask one question.
Why didn’t I recognize my mother?” “You gave the
wrong answer,” said the Sphinx. “But that was what
made everything possible,” said Oedipus. “No,” she said.
“When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning,
two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered,
Man. You didn’t say anything about woman.”
“When you say Man,” said Oedipus, “you include women
too. Everyone knows that.” She said, “That’s what
you think.”

Sometimes the entire payoff for a poem is in the last line. I’ve been thinking about that “That’s what you think.” ever since I read this poem. Rukeyser really brings the flaw of male default thinking (as detailed in Invisible Women) to the forefront here and, furthermore, highlights its prevalence in all arenas–including history and classical literature. Hat tip to Laura Amy Schlitz for direction me to this poem when she mentioned it in her novel Amber & Clay.