How to Cheat


Last week, we wrote two lines a day, combining and recombining them on Saturday to see what would emerge.

At the end of the week, Beth Dufford came up with “Peepers at the Start of August as Metaphor,” which I like a lot except for the title, which strikes me as fussy and somewhat self-deprecating:

Solos in the branches begin again,
Once more,
As this bruised evening races to its end—
What calm.

A semblance of clarity quells the despair
‘til sleep delivers—wonder where
this blood
came from.

What calm.
Once more.

What calm.
What calm.

What calamity.
What calm.

What calm.
Once more.

The poets were allowed to “cheat”—which in this context means to revise, repeat, and juggle the lines—and the conclusion of Beth’s effort attests to the wisdom of such a strategy.

If this challenge were a competition, I’d give runner-up honors to Ivan Brave for “July to August”:

I am leaving one for another
one home for another today

The heart of this new station beats
As boxes open, anxiety is wasting

Two plus seven, that’s nine, no sleep
only twenty-seven, and so beginning

And yet waiting more than ever
for her to come again, again

Till right on time the rain plays her name
And the accordion eases a smile anew

Nor should Michael C. Rush’s effort be overlooked:

I’ve said it before:
nothing repeats.

The residue of what is left when all is gone
cannot sustain a return.

Who carried the cash
and who kept the receipt?

We paid for change
with wealth unearned.

I couldn’t resist taking some of my favorite entries and putting them together to construct a group collaboration. Here goes—a three-part poem, with a title yet to be determined:

Poem in Three Parts


I am leaving one for another,
one home for another today. (Ivan Brave)

Solos in the branches begin again,
Once more. (Beth Dufford)

I’ve said it before:
nothing repeats. (Michael C. Rush)


If the eyes are the windows of the soul, (Byron)
You were looted amusement, (Stephanie Cohen)

You were lashed lonesomeness, (Stephanie Cohen)

Peaches in the cobalt bowl. (Christine Rhein)

Sometimes I think I wrote a noose.
Luckily, I wrote it loose. (Eric Fretz)


We found a hole in the ceiling tonight;
it kept us awake, leaking moonlight. (Elizabeth Solsburg)

If the eyes are the windows,
Where is the door? (Byron)

What calm.
Once more. (Beth Dufford)

I’ve said it before:
nothing repeats. (Michael C. Rush)

My thanks to all who raised their thumbs upward after reading my two-line poem, “Hyphen”:

Wanted: one night stand
or one night-stand.

Watch this space next week for a new prompt.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

David Lehman, a contributing editor of the Scholar, is a poet, critic, and the general editor of The Best American Poetry annual anthology and author of the book One Hundred Autobiographies. He currently writes our Talking Pictures column.


Please enter a valid email address
That address is already in use
The security code entered was incorrect
Thanks for signing up