Rachel Hadas

Cento for the Turn of the Year
January 23, 2017 Hadas Rachel

Cento for the Turn of the Year

                        NOTE: On December 11. 2016, a group of PLUME poets, beautifully MC’d by Sally-Bliumis-Dunn in the absence of Danny Lawless, gave a reading at the Jefferson Market Library in NYC. In the following weeks, I was inspired to stitch together some lines by some of my wonderful fellow readers that I scribbled down, adding a few of my own, to make a cento of sorts. The older I get, the more poetry seems to be a shared endeavor. Thanks, and apologies for any inaccuracies here, to Larissa Shmailo, Patricia Clark, Elaine Equi, Dennis Nurkse, and Sally Bliumis-Dunn.


And thanks, as always, to PLUME’s Danny Lawless, without whom….


Assume nothing. Take a position:
a girl straddling a bicycle after a windstorm.

It was light when I first began to read
and now it is dark.

Forest which one can enter from any country,
a myth is more insistent than a rumor.

I had to rein in the strange, wild energy,
a part of my body I never knew existed –

the floodlit podium, the whipping clouds.
I learned to talk to devils.

We had no idea we hated ourselves that much.
My mind, often a mystery to me,

turns corners while I sleep,
as though my body now is where I remember.

I write to converse with the dead
and pay my respects to the unborn.

The baby is heading down the birth canal,
venturing out alone and then to talk.

When I was young, my hope was to put the world together.
Now I want to dismantle it

and examine it piece by piece
and try to match the jagged edges up,

allowing room for asymmetry,
honoring vicissitude and peril.

As if the world were not being perpetually dismantled.
The wind howls. The web trembles.

Can we find the worlds to forgive ourselves?
The floodlit podium, the chanting crowds:

It was light when I first began to write
and now it is dark.



-Rachel Hadas     and friends

Rachel Hadas is the author of many books of poetry, essays, and translations, mostly recently poetry collection “Ghost Guest” (2023) and her translation of  Book 16 of Nonnus’s “Tales of Dionysus”, a rollicking epic from the diaspora of late antiquity (2022).  She recently retired from Rutgers University-Newark, where for many years she was Board of Governors Professor of English.