Poetry 180: The Orange Scarf

So, being encouraged and inspired by Mama Monk I’m posting a piece that I recently enjoyed in my latest endeavor and resolution
to write and read more poetry, starting with Billy Collins’ compilation of Poetry 180.

Suzanne Cleary’s “Acting”

I most remember the class where we lie
on our backs, on the cold floor, eyes closed, listening
to a story set in tall grasses, a land of flash floods.
Ten babies slept in a wagon as a stream risen from nothing
trampled like white horses towards them.
We heard the horses, pulling their terrible silence.
Then he asked us to open our eyes. Our teacher
took from his pocket an orange square, dropped it:
this had wrapped one of the babies.
This was found after the water receded.

I remember the woman with red hair
kneeling before the scarf, afraid to touch it,
our teacher telling her she could stop
by saying OK, Good.
I remember the boy named Michael, who
once told me he loved me. Michael
approached with tiny steps, heel to toe,
as if he were measuring land,
and, all at once, he fell
on the scarf. It could have been funny,
loud, clumsy. Another context, another moment,
it would have been ridiculous.
Head down, he held the scarf to his eyes.

My turn, I didn’t move. I stared
at the orange scarf, but not as long
as I’d have liked to, for this was a class
and there were others in line for their grief.
I touched it, lightly, with one hand,
folded it into a square, a smaller square, smaller.

What is lived in a life?
Our teacher making up that story
as he watched us lie on the dusty floor,
our rising, one by one,
to play with loss, to practice,
what is lived, to live? What was that desire
to move through ourselves to the orange
cotton, agreed upon, passed
from one to another?


I love the music and colors of this piece. It’s sensual – compelling and appealing to all the senses actually. There’s something sacred here – sacramental – about each sharing and touching the orange square. They each have a story sparked by the first and made tangible by the scarf that connects them to each other.

All of it moves towards the question “What is lived in a life?” Is it emotion? Is it action? Is it memory? Is it story? Is it connection?

I love the color orange. It’s the citrus that wards off illness in winter, lilies or gerbera daisies of spring, the campfires of summer, and the pumpkins and leaves of autumn. It evokes live-liness, warmth, an energy that is delicious and makes me hungry simultaneously.