Poetry Club, day 4

Originally, the chapters in The Joy of Poetry covered a calendar year, from New Year’s to Christmas, and this was the last poem in the book. The poet, Paul Willis, has a new collection out, Getting to Gardisky Lake. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to.

I chose this poem because it’s about playing piano, and the piano in my house has been through four students, including me. No one plays it now. But mostly I chose the poem because of the ending: “Sometimes / just a year is enough to learn / to bring joy to the world.”





The summer you were seven

you could hardly sleep

That night before your first recital.

“I’d rather break my arm,” you said.


which is what you did with an hour

to spare. We could blame the dog

who chased you into the glass door,

but that would be dumb. A wish,


you found, is a dangerous thing.

Today, eight years old and nearly

Christmas, you asked to be the first

on the program. As you sat waiting,


sunlight fell on the bowl-cut line

Behind your head. Sometimes

just a year is enough to learn

to bring joy to the world.


Paul Willis


Your turn.


  1. I am a Paul Willis fan!

    The transition seems to be from wanting to break my own arm to avoid something, to realizing that the something brings joy to the world! In any case, I refuse to have a bowl haircut again. 🙂

    This immediately reminds me of two things: (1) For the first year (or was it two?) of my son’s piano lessons, he called it pain-o instead of piano. Back then I thought he was just playing with words and sounds. Later I found out it was because he disliked (or maybe he said “hated”) piano. But after that first year or two, piano became his favorite thing. Now, he desperately wishes he had piano lessons every week instead of every two weeks. He finds websites with free printable sheet music. We have to say he can’t play too early in the morning or else he will wake the other family members (or the neighbors, if the windows are open). I guess the best things we love can start out by being things we hate. (2) The second thing the poem reminds me of is the time at the end of Christmas break one year, when I actually did try to break my own leg by jumping off the stairs a certain way (didn’t work), in order to avoid going back to school and dealing with a bully.

  2. Smiling because:

    1. We’re just a few weeks out from recital here in this crazy house, and it would be tough decision for my son . . . a broken arm or the recital? Honestly not sure which he would go for.
    2. Paul Willis is new to me, and I love finding a new voice!

  3. Ohh, I like this poem. I like the subject matter. I like its four-line stanzas. I like the profound statement about wishing right smack in the middle.

    Usually, when I like to go first, it’s because I want to get my part out of the way. Is that the way the child in the poem feels, or is the child eager to demonstrate mastery of the piece? Has the child learned to love the piano or has the child learned a better coping mechanism, that going first is better than breaking one’s arm? Since the word ‘joy’ appears at the end, I’m guessing the child learned to love it. But I had to ask my question.

  4. Heather Garcia says

    I like this one. I could follow the imagery easily and liked the point it made. This was my favorite line: “We could blame the dog

    who chased you into the glass door,

    but that would be dumb.”

    Unexpected and funny.

  5. I love that the thing that was once dreaded is now loved- or at least, enjoyed. I love how these few lines show transformation.

  6. I don’t know Paul Willis, but I guess I should. I really like this poem.

    I wondered, too, if the child wanted to get the thing out of the way or if he/she just wanted to get the thing over with or was anxious to perform–either for the joy of it or before the piece was forgotten. The last line makes me think joy.

    My daughter was anxious to take piano lessons before she was old enough to read. I think we started her in second or third grade. She only lasted a two or three years before we stopped them because getting her to practice was so frustrating. We always hoped her teacher would ream her when she showed up for lessons, but she only got kudos. She must have had some kind of talent. I wished we’d kept her in until she found the joy. One Christmas, her teacher made me play a duet with her. It’s a wonder one of us didn’t break the other’s leg during practices.

    “that would be dumb’ made me laugh. And then I had to stop and ponder the dangerous wishing.