Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tuesday Poem: "This Life" by Grace Paley

My friend tells me
a man in my house jumped off the roof
the roof is the eighth floor of this building
the roof door was locked      how did he manage?
his girlfriend had said      goodbye I'm leaving
he was 22
his mother and father were hurrying
at that very moment
from upstate to help him move out of Brooklyn
they had heard about the girl

the people who usually look up
and call      jump jump      did not see him
the life savers who creep around the back staircases
and reach the roof's edge just in time
never got their chance      he meant it      he wanted
only one person to know

did he imagine that she would grieve
all her young life away      tell everyone
this boy I kind of lived with last year
he died on account of me

my friend was not interested      he said      you're always
inventing stuff      what I want to know      how could he throw
his life away      how do these guys do it
just like that      and here I am fighting this
ferocious insane vindictive virus day and
night      day and night      and for what?      for only
one thing      this life      this life

     by Grace Paley

Grace Paley, who died in 2007, was an American short story writer, poet, teacher, and political activist. For more about her life and work, see here:


I was really captivated by this poem. Although the subject is tragic, she approaches it in a very matter-of-fact manner which somehow plays off all the imaginative alleyways she explores. Her use of spaces within lines is intriguing.

The plainness of the language she uses belies the fact that the poem is packed with meaning. I love those lines: "the life savers who creep around the back staircases/and reach the roof's edge just in time/never got their chance" which seems to poke fun at the implausibility of some of the scenes we might see on television or in films.

And then the self-absorbed single focus of her friend who has no time for her imagination throws the whole poem into stark relief.