I Knew a Woman / This woman I know

"I Knew a Woman"

by Theodore Roethke

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek.)

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and stand;
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin:
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing did we make.)

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved.)

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways.)


"This woman I know"

Could I paint that woman’s truth in a trillion strokes,
portray how her features—like white shorebirds in flight
skim over sand skin in fierce flocks—before I’m stuck,
transfixed on any bright detail—how she delights
us both losing her whole sense in just the right joke—

how she flies our lives in her whimsy’s winds, two kites
held aloft—and held fast—by the strings in her hand?
Hers is the private tide of points and counterpoints
at which I sigh, then rise to the acts of a man
until I tire, until we retire—thus, lucky.

She summons the council, advocates for the dance
with dances of lavender buds and sandpaper.
The same wind that whips her hair stills her turbulence.
A soul warrior must be her own enabler.
In this life, except for hiccups, everything’s right—

at the end of day to feel her rubbing the shape
of infinity on my back, kissing generations on my nape.


  1. Daniel - this is gorgeous! Right from the opening line, your poem sings, You did Roethke proud. I think this is one of my favorites from this week's PA prompt. -RJ ☼


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