“Picture of a Soul” Elizabeth Spires

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Riddle Me This


Good news: Poetry continues to work its way back into everyday media. Or every weekend media, anyway, as evidenced by the New York Times Magazine, a Sunday insert that includes a poem selected by Rita Dove each week.

Yesterday, the magazine included an Elizabeth Spires poem. I’m going to hold back on the title to see if you can guess what it’s about. Game? Good. Here we go:


A shirt I was born in.
I wear it. Or it wears me.
White, of course.

A loose fit.
Growing as I grow
but slowly going dull.

It must be washed
once, twice, three times,
then hung to dry.

There, can you see it?
Hanging high
on the hill.

Waving its arms
in the wind. Beckoning.
Sun shining through.


I don’t know about you, but as I read it yesterday, I thought it sounded like a poem for children. One of those puzzle poems. One of those here-are-the-clues, now-see-if-you-can-guess-what-I-am deals. Sold at Personifications R Us. Aisle 6. Bottom shelf (where wee ones can see riddles rolling among the dust bunnies). Where teachers buy poems without titles and put students on the hunt.

If you haven’t guessed already, it’s about your immortal (thinking the best here) soul and carries the title “Picture of a Soul.”

Nice, but nicer still is the quote Dove alludes to in the short introduction. It’s a Wallace Stevens bit I’d never heard before: “the poet is the priest of the invisible.”

I wonder if someone has stolen that for a book title yet. Or is it too cheeky? Priest of the Invisible: Poems. I’ll check with Dewey, then Decimal, and get back to  you.

Until then, Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!