Next Line, Please

Darkness Visible

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By David Lehman

November 3, 2015


 

 

The requirement for this week’s line–line four of our opening quatrain–is that it end with the word alone. It is also understood that the line needs to follow our first three lines, and it has an added burden: it must create a sense of temporary closure. A heterodox line might work, but most of the 14 finalists opted to aim at a stanza-ending line that introduces an element that we may want to develop in our next stanza.

To recapitulate, these are our first three lines, each with the name of its author:

Our dreams as disparate as our days uniform,                   (Michael C. Rush)
We crave a lovely scandal with someone well-known;      (Angela Ball)
Midnight champagne, penthouse lit by thunderstorm,     (Christine Rhein)

For line four I chose Elizabeth Solsburg’s:

In this version of darkness, we are never alone.

What I particularly liked was “this version of darkness.” What, then, is darkness? If it is absence of light, how can it coexist with the lightning that sparks a thunderstorm? There is, of course, a metaphorical sense of darkness that Ms. Solsburg’s line taps into. But look, too, at the possibilities raised by the alliteration of “darkness” with “dreams,” “disparate,” and “days” from line one; by the paradox of being plural (“we”) yet “alone”; and by the recognition that this is just one “version” of a story. There may well be others.

In second place, running neck and neck with the winner, and falling behind by a nose, is Joanna Peders’s:

Outside a city full, inside I sit with one glass, alone.

In addition to this line’s other virtues, the antithesis between outside and inside seems an echo of the one between night and day in line one. Now, too, we have the emergence of an “I” to modify the stately “we” we had been working with. And “alone” picks up “one” as the line slams shut. Has reality interrupted the fantasy of line three, itself suggested by the tabloid news story in line two?

For third place, I lean to Paul Michelsen for Instead of fridge-lit sour milk insomnia faced alone,” though I also appreciated a second entry that Paul submitted: “In the morning woke—broke, naked, alone.” It is beyond dispute that “fridge-lit sour milk insomnia” will stop any reader in her or his tracks.

Honorable mention: Joe Lawlor (Still we have each other, together, alone.), Berwyn Moore (Satin sheets, piano keys — we pretend we’re alone.), Charise Hoge (Clinking of glass…blackout, shattered, alone.), Terry Blackhawk (An elaborate ruse so we don’t dream alone.), and Kerry Hentges (But instead we wake up, sheets tangled, alone.)

Kudos to all, and to all my thanks.


So here is our first stanza:

Our dreams as disparate as our days uniform,
We crave a lovely scandal with someone well-known;
Midnight champagne, penthouse lit by thunderstorm,
In this version of darkness, we are never alone.

For the opening line of our second quatrain, line five of our poem, I am looking for a line that ends with either “he” or “she,” and preferably in the locution “but she” or “but he.”

Good luck! Deadline: Noon, Sunday November 8, 2015.


David Lehman is a poet and the general editor of The Best American Poetry series. He teaches at The New School in New York City.

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