Something Old, Something New; Where Classic Literature Meets Creative Writing

Arwen Baxter

University of Montana

UReCA: The NCHC Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity 2020 Edition

Something Old, Something New; Where Classic Literature Meets Creative Writing

Holding my Happiness ~ After reading the Tao Te Ching 

If I could hold my happiness in the palm of my hand

I would play it for you 

Hum it in the ditches 

Where we gathered dandelion seeds to salt our dinner 


If I could hold you in the palm of my hand 

I might drop your heart in the dust  

Pick it up and rinse it with cold water 

Put it back on the bookshelf and hope you don’t notice.


If I could compare you in weight 

Hold you under my tongue, a gold coin 

My rook of immortality 

I could warm you in the microwave on cold nights And place you at my feet 

Or hang you from my rearview mirror 

My lucky die, my rosary 

False idol, gold statuette of my self-worth 


If I could hold myself in my hand 

We are so much better with others than ourselves

I crumple me up, break me against brick walls

I hold myself, a small purring thing 

Flighty in my identity. I was not hand raised.

I place myself, a leaf in the water 

Gently upon this earth


If I could hold my happiness in the palm of my hand

I would look from every angle 

Let you feel its texture  

You could ask me where I bought it. 

Perhaps then 

Then would I be able to tell you


They call it a painful case ~ After reading James Joyce’s Dubliners 

Perhaps to meet at the docks, a bouquet of Dahlias in hand 

To slip through the railing, hold that pink tissue papered waist 

Listen to it crinkle—the fumbled opening 

A stark surprise to a soul’s innate lonesome 

Then a withering 

A sudden failure of the heart’s action 

The eyes draw back into the skull, the hand draws back from the fervor of a happy mind Sudden failure 

She watches you fall, blushing in her newly cheapened wisdom  

Failure—To break the ossified shell 

If I open my arms wide enough, can you not see yourself in them? 

Remove your timepiece dear, and forgive your paralyzed element 

Do I not hold weight? Do I not hold water?  

Too long have you lived in this county, let me show you the world 

With a sudden failure of the heart’s action 

He returns to his papers at home 

Dearest, why do you withhold yourself from life?


Bruised Bluebird ~ After reading Terry Tempest Williams’s Refuge 

I came to know the science of a bruised bluebird day 

Heads buried deep in sand bars slipping away 

A mother sowing salt, it flows from her daughter’s scalp 

This hapless happiness giving way 

Earth running into the faults 


I came to know the creature I killed with my wires 

Not from the evening post, no, I stepped outside 

Each burning tree a funeral pyre, loss shaken from the boughs 

Like the weight of the wet spring snow 

The branches cracked 

I looked back  

Down geologic eras, the barrel of a gun 


What claim have I to lay 

Creature of the clay  

The sea urchin has seen my earliest infancies and remained 

Call me great mover, great changer, great builder 

You call me the ant in the cancerous sun 


I have seen the runoff  

I have called the river home, said it held my soul 

And spit in the clearest pools 

A sheen of kerosene I have laid upon the world 

I am the match and the god and the mouse in the house on fire 


My daughter came to Carthage 

No salmon make the journey 

The sea pours into the open wound 


I came to know the science, I came to know the creature, I came to know my children

Still I carve my name 

To bloody the aspen trees 

Their roots extending for miles 

Entwined in prayer


The Lady of Shalott reimagined as an indie rock ballad ~ After Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson 

Today is Sunday/ I woke up late again.  

The days are gone before I have the time to make a change.  

My eyes are bleary/ Can’t seem to focus now  

Life’s a hoax I feel like one great big joke right now.


I am half sick of shadows.  

I am half sick of shadows.


When I’m lonely/ I watch the television/ But the people on the screen never listen to me.  They keep on lying/ And chasing vampires.  

Getting drunk and sleeping with their boyfriends’ stepbrothers.  

They’re so stupid/ What an ugly life/ But at least they’ve got plans for Friday night. 


I am half sick of shadows.  

I am half sick of shadows. 


I need a hobby/ Maybe Volleyball/ But I can’t spike and they say go pro or not at all. 

I get so bored I go/ To the grocery store.  

But I can’t pretend the produce section’s a garden anymore. 


I am half sick of shadows.  

I am half sick of shadows.


Think I’m too tired/ To sing along today/ But if I do maybe this headache will go away. 

I am an artist/ At least emotionally/ But I lack endurance to pursue life professionally. 

It’s such a shame how/ People waste their lives.  

Parking cars and breaking hearts and standing in Pharmacy lines.


I am half sick of shadows.  

I am half sick of shadows.


I’m being carried downstream now. 

I’m being carried downstream now.

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