Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 22, 2009

Swamp of Words (an original poem)

Swamp of Words             /  (aka “Bookpile”)     by Mark Nielsen     4-22-09 (Earth Day)

a song to be sung to the tune of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and/or Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge


[Based on a dream I had this morning where I was back in primary school, in front of a pile of books, feeling desperate… and based on problems that I’m currently having with my college students, or more accurately, problems that my students are having with their research papers. Also inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem The Lilies Break Open Over the Dark Water, 2004. ]



How could a book be a problem?

It’s not going to eat me.

It can’t hurt me — at least not physically.

(Not unless someone throws it at me.)


On the other hand

It might cause me to feel the hurts on the inside,

To hear the old voices saying “I can’t” or “Your dumb”.


The book cannot judge me.

It’s only made of paper.

But the judgment will come, nevertheless.


I try to tell myself,

to calm myself,

“Its only made of paper.”


Of trees, in fact. Beautiful green trees.

How could my friend the tree be turned into

such a square, ugly thing as a book?

No pictures. No equations.

Just page after page of words.

But there it is.

It’s a problem.

A puzzle —

and a boring one, at that,

full of words I do not know.

A maze that I cannot get through.

A weedy tangle of thoughts

and feelings that I cannot unravel.


I am stuck in the mud.

This pile of books before me is a swamp.

I cannot see the forest for the trees.

I cannot see past

this pile of boxy tree pieces

blocking my view,

sucking me down

further into the swamp

of my own

messy mind.

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