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Poems with a Twist

Poems collected from participants in Dave Johnson’s 10*10*10 Video Workshops.

When I was 5
my mother
dressed me in a brown
pinstripe suit, took me
downtown to Olan Mills Studio
for a portrait. I looked so good,
I told my mother,
This is the suit I want
to be buried in!

-Dave Johnson

black dress for prom
i searched all of
downtown los angeles
for my ideal
black dress for prom

i asked your dad
to wear a tuxedo
with a white jacket

my hair was very long,
past my butt,
but i wore it in an updo

we were three months
pregnant with you
but one could not tell

i cut my hair
the day after prom
(i donated 10 inches)

i waited weeks
to see if our photo
came out perfectly

this is the only photo
of your dad and me
that i really like


Photograph Poem
Clear the image is as was the
Toothy smile on my face
Glowing in a moment on stage
A glimpse of my truest self
Hair whipping above
me as the lights
Shined down
My fingers pressed against
The black and white keys
I am bursting
at the seams
Filling to the brim
In rapture is the expression
My overwhelming sense
of joy


My name is Samm Bauer and I am currently Montana State University of Billings and my creative writing teacher referred us to this website and to participate in the writing prompts.

Zoom Reunion

The mother upper left corner
Her offspring filling in the grid
Screenshot of a far-flung family

The access code had contained
the father’s birth date. It’s a sign,
the mother said, he’s still with us

Nobody spoke of the other absence
The empty square below the collage
of vibrant faces. The mother homes in
on that space, the one that stayed dark

-Joan Blessing

This is a photograph of me
Less than 4 months old
Under the wondering gaze of my father
Who is under the gaze of his mother
I am his first child, he was hers
Does he wonder at my future – or at his?
Can he envision the winding paths of our journey?
Can I?
On that warm Texas day
No fortune-teller could have seen
Us both in quarantine 6 decades later
In separate states, cities, rooms
Him – wheelchair bound
Me – pen in hand scratching a poem on a page to hold the plague at bay.

-Vivian Tedford

This is a photograph of me
or rather how I’d like you to see
Here I am in its mirror
styled and framed by steady medieval hands,
a long witness to prayer and crime
famine and blood, that now must frame me.
You see me altered by light,
pulvered stone silt, the rarified air
of wormwood crosses and tempera garments
rubbed thin through the ages.
And here I am caught, gold-leafed
and quilted, by this camera’s
moment of empathy.

-Claudia Hollander-Lucas

Hi Poets House,
Here is a response to Margaret Atwood’s poem.
Thank you, Dave Johnson, for your fine prompts!
and to Poets House for all the great work that you do to cultivate a wider audience  and love for poetry.
Best wishes


Baby Picture
(after Margaret Atwood’s “This Is a Photograph of Me)

There is only one baby picture of me
That was ever taken,
Or at least it is the only one I know.
My saucer brown eyes and broad
Toad-like grin
Graces my face as if
I have discovered the world
As well as my role in it.
Later, I entered this photo
In a baby picture contest and won
First prize for most beautiful baby.
Although, Mom said, “I was much prettier
As a baby” and she was…
I am 9 months old,
Or at least that’s what Mom guessed
Three decades ago.
I am dressed in a peachy pink
Flowered dress or
Is it a shirt? A jumper?
There is no way to know.
I am in crawl mode,
Proud of my ability to balance on all fours
Like an obedient dog or one
Who has mastered a yoga
Table top pose.
The outfit, whatever it is,
Has a Peter Pan collar and three
pearl buttons, decorative only,
On the front.
I am fearless in my
Poised happiness.

-Deborah Eve Grayson

is a Photograph of Six Year Old Me in Santa Barbara

this photograph, it’s sunset at Douglas Park by the ocean,
beach still lit behind me by sparkling fuzzy sand.
in a bright yellow hoodie that’s probably one size too big,
father’s arm angled behind me like a railroad crossing so I don’t fall
of the picture.

my father said we were flying from Tennessee to California
see family. I asked if we were bringing gifts.
father brought money
a blue zippered bag from the bank.
bought me a comic book at K-Mart to read on the plane.

this photograph, we had just arrived and the beach is where we went first.
father took me there because that’s where his father took his afternoon strolls.
was there, too. Not in the photo, but there
you followed the corner of my smile up into the cliff,
the steep driveways in Goleta, way out of frame. There.

grandfather’s house is where the curve in the road meets another
where he rested in a bed more suited for hospitals than for living rooms,
to walk or speak. I didn’t know that arrivals began with goodbyes,
my father was smiling in the photograph because he wanted me to smile
there, the sun always just barely setting.

-Austin S. Lin

This is a photograph of me…
This is a photograph of me
on the fishing-boat-dock towards sunset.
There’s a crimson glow to my upturned cheeks
and my waving hair
looks more golden than black.
The photo’s cropped small
so you can’t see the wet ropes
or the silvery stripped bass
flopping and glistening in the milk crate.
Her face is touching my cheek,
snuggling up to fit in the frame,
her little face
sun-kissed and sparkling.

Snapped only a couple of years before
the candlelight vigil:

500 young friends


Photograph of me
This is a photograph of me
At the salon they made me up
then took pictures, then went away
to look at them, I presumed on a big screen,
then came back, took more, went away,
took more. I presumed there were flaws
or the angle did not disguise the hook in my nose.
Finally they were done and I left with all that make-up on, not
knowing how garish it was.

This was before the bike crash, and
the surgeries, and also
this was before I broke my nose on the
whale watching boat,
before I drove from there
to the country club, and no one
said a thing about the gashes
on my face and the end of my nose
that was becoming like a cauliflower ear.

That photograph ended up
published in a book. At that time,
my nose was hooked.

-Devin Dougherty

Dear Dave,
stay safe!
Below is my contribution to “This is a Photograph of Me.”

This is a Photograph of Me
After a swim
lying in the shallow water
with my back to the sun in Greece
looking out of the water
eighteen years old.
My husband took a picture
like this 48 years every summer
and tells me
I am looking alike.

Ml (Her son)
I’m leaning against some water-
Damaged boards going up and down.
I’ve got my hands behind my hands behind my
Back and there’s this look on my face like
She took the picture somewhere between
Telling me to smile—to smile bigger, nope, not
Big enough smile even BIGGER!—
And me whining about something…
How people were watching me, how stupid
I felt, how uncomfortable I was at her mother’s
It’s there for me to see even if I’ve forgotten
Exactly what the back and forth was, as brief
As it was before she got what she wanted.
Now I can ask her when did I ever get what I
Wanted short of cutting her out of my life from
The time I was eleven, which wouldn’t be too
Long after she pressed the shutter.
And the automatic advance sounded like it was
Screaming to get to the next frame, to get
The hell out of there, out of that dark place—
Even if it were to be drowned in chemicals and
Blasted with red lights then discarded altogether,
It would still be preferable to being
Her son.

-Garth Ferrante

I have cut myself out of all our photographs
Am no longer willing to appear as you picture me
What I am curious about is what you can’t see
Defining characteristics without physicality

Internal worry wrinkles impossible to botox
Nervousness too shifty for static, a sparkle
In the eyes that doesn’t make it past the retina

I’m looking for a snapshot of my inside
Colonoscopy for a soul still struggling
To believe in a self that lives within
The outer boundaries of what can be seen
In positives too easily stored in a box
On the top shelf of a wardrobe forgotten
In a dusty corner of your attic

These feeble attempts at representation
Are reflections not worth thinking about
Simple sketch marks from a skidded tire

Do you fear I am figment of your imagination
A phantom without likeness?

Please don’t put me to a printout test, it’s like
Asking a vampire to breathe on a mirror

I believe more in what I am without
A carbon copy of carbon coinage

In absentia
Give me a shot

-Peter Vander Lux

High horse
In faded kodachrome
with deckled edge
like a window into the past
a pipsqueak sits perched upon
a stallion named Big Boy
in a white party dress and
black patent leather mary janes.
I ask of me, do you know little one
what adventures lie ahead?
I hear her reply, well maybe not
but on the next horse I know
I sure won’t be wearing
these shoes.

-Noreen Sanders

This is a Photograph of Me
At 23 I stride beside my husband
on 42nd Street in New York City
up from Chattanooga, Tennessee
his first time here, my first job
as a tour guide for a place I love,
for a man I love, a first picture
of where I want to be. You can see
it fits. Together we are beautiful,
as confident as models on a runway–
Times Square—it’s ours! — his tie
waving in the wind, my pumps
high-heeled, securely fastened; each step
the first act that, for 64 years, will frame our play .

-Myra Shapiro

There is a
of me the day
was born

In my mother’s arms
Her beautiful pink nightgown, her smile,
Her deep happy dimples.
I remember her looking at me for the first time
Sounds crazy, I was just born into the world
Third child, third girl
The trifecta of feminism.
That was a long time ago. She looked at me knowing.
I love you child I heard her feel
She was so young
I was her blessing
She mine
Losing a parent is like having a child
Changing life forever

-Nancy Bergman

This is a Photograph of Me
Arms over my head, mouth
open in glee. I wear a Rainbow
Brite nightgown and my grandmother’s
wig and costume jewelry.

What it couldn’t capture
was the anxiety I carried
back then, even as a child.
I was afraid of everything.

I remember being so terrified
at that moment of touching
Grandma’s stuff-that I would
get in trouble. But you’d

never get that from the shot.
In it I look like a normal kid.

-Meara Levezow

This is a photograph of me…..
Standing atop a long and steep hill, I am sporting my favorite sundress.
I am sure it was a hand me down but at the ripe age of 4 who is to care?
The bodice is decorated with springtime flowers and, while black and white,
I remember them as bursts of sunfilled energy.

The frilly cap sleeves stand above my outstretched arms holding on
to the green tricycle just retrieved from its flight down the long slope.
Is it relief on my face or fear? Should I take it for another spin, or relish in the fact that it is
safe back with me and I can ride unbridled once more.

-Ellen Goldstein

Post Office Photo
His eyes, narrowed slits of hate,
Betray the mustached smile that
Presides above a stubbled chin
Jutting defiance over the
Emboldened phrase stating in
Stark capital letters at the bottom

-Gerald Harris

This is a Photograph of Me
A shy six-year-old posing awkwardly
For a school portrait at Montessori.
I am holding two wooden sticks,
like I was ready to tap out some beats.

That day, my parents dressed me in
a buttoned-down shirt, matched with a
Varsity-striped clip-on tie of maroon and
White. And over it, a blue navy blazer.
Maybe they dressed me how they
Saw me in 20 years. All I remember
Was trying my best to hold the pose.

-Wing Yan Sang

This Is a Photo of Me
It was taken last summer,
while I was in an office building
high up in Manhattan.

To my eyes,
I look so different
from what, and perhaps, who, I was
as a high school kid,
as a college girl.

This photo was taken the summer after
my life changed

— Kori Cooper

This is a Photograph of Me
After Margaret Atwood
1970 something. A hotel room.

I am three, maybe four years old,
sitting on one of the
two queen beds, near the pillows,
near the nightstand, holding
the rotary-dial phone receiver
to my ear.

Whom did I pretend I was calling?

What did I say?

What did I imagine
I heard in reply?

All I know is that I look happy.

Maybe I was calling the future.

–Robert Grant

A picture of me
Checkered pants, red jacket, saddle shoes and
I am certain I had a say in this stylish ensemble.
Smiling confidently, holding my hands gracefully with middle finger lightly touching thumb as I always have.
I am two years old and I look smashing.
I know I do.

I always hold this picture in mind.
Sometimes I lose the actual now weathered print,
only for it to resurface again when I need it most.
It is my favorite photograph.

-Shellie Winkler

Thank you again for this wonderful program.

This is a photograph of me
Three years old at the beach,
smile, genuine or enigmatic, you pick.
Head full of dark curly ringlets, small,
glowing body, healthy sized where
gentle rolls look more like muscle.
Circling my waist is the clear plastic
tube that keeps me above water,
not sure if this was taken before or after
the time they tell me I almost drowned.

Stare longer at the photo
and you see in the eyes alert desire,
with only a hint of caution. Over
the years, the hair has been ironed,
straightened, blown to tame the
curl. How many years for the caution
to smother the eyes?

My father carried the cracked and aging photo
in his wallet until the day he left my mother,
explaining later he believed his children would turn
against him—a perfect reversal.

There is no photo now, and yet I see
it sharply in focus, how that small girl
keeps me afloat.

-Linda Hillman Chayes

Waiting to break away,
she waddled dutifully
behind the woman with the black permed hair
curled crisp by hairspray and nightly beer,
into a bouffant like Jackie’s,
who was pursing her crimson lips,
and the man with a cap over his bald head
and slim fingers, delicately picking
at the plants growing by the creek,
recalling their names and when they blossomed,
cross checking their Latin names
in his Guide to Wildflowers.
The creek was slow and muddy,
brown waters oozing onto its shores.
Ducks kicked up their legs
as they passed in slow procession
at the same rhythm as the walkers in the wild.
Shiny plum-shaped face, a bowl pixie cut
with a too short fringe that made her face
rounder, she walked behind
the parents who weren’t,
breathing in the wind, her head hung down
to study the dead leaves
along the Wissahickon’s banks.

-Lenore Rosenberg

Hello! Here is my submission for category topic: “a photo of you”

“How are you doing?”
In insolation and quarantine
I’ve no choice but to look at myself.
I look at myself looking at who I look at.
I look at myself looking at what I look at.
When this is over do I even wanna go back to any of it?
My New York State ID says I am five feet tall
but my reflection these days show an Amazonian woman,
a hundred-handed Briareus.
Only now,
My hands, arms, legs, mouth, mind and heart
aren’t working for systems in place that donnot support my well being in a world dying in capitalism.
Only now they are not exhausting themselves for a toxic anybody
who does not know what to do
with my dedication or devotion.
I see myself colored of agility, wile,
and artistic healing.
Home bakes bread tastes best with trusted family
and truest friends,
shared over truthful conversation.
Wondering ‘bout the stuff of iron
surviving fires
coming out
looking like diamonds.

-Karen Joy Pangantihon

Becoming Me
Imagined October 1951
In the uterus
No one sees me
No one has yet felt my presence.

Mustard seed just planted
Inside fluid-growing sac
Sink in it
Squirm through it.

Nine months aha!
Beyond the pale
Outside the water
Unconsumed by boundary
Within belly.

Tiny mustard seed spurt.
Free to be me that the world would now see.

Free to be the me
In that still developing photo of
Tiny mustard seed
Now buried deep at root of an evergreen
That only I see.

Still imagining who
Is that me

-Kiswana Dee

A Photograph of Myself
I snap a photograph of my foot
in the dog’s warm mouth
it’s amazing how gentle he is
with his huge pointed canines
(not for nothing those teeth have that name)
how gently he withholds his power
I am vulnerable and trusting
as he licks my toes with his
saturated sponge of a tongue.


This is the only photograph of us together
At first it seems to be
a boy, perched.

One foot on his knee, and
the concrete city rising up around.

Then, as you scan
it, you see it’s the end of spring.

He’s wearing sunglasses and there’s
his tote bag near his feet.

(The photograph was taken the day I told him to
wait for me outside.

I am in twin panes of dark glass,
and, if you look close
you will see her too.)

—Emily Villani

This Photograph of Me
Misplaced in multitudes
of moves and mournings

the snapshot reappears —
emerging from the past

like a mermaid rising
from a dormant sea, waving

before diving back
into obscurity. The beach

hat I’m wearing is too big for
my three-year-old self

but the sun
is still in my eyes.

-Deborah Purdy

A photograph of me
When I was still working at the
“large international organization”,
protected here because they do very good things,
I hadn’t been feeling too well. It was time
For my annual physical at their medical service.
“You’re fine,” they said, when my lab reports came in.
Then the real snapshot of me — the X-ray – came in.
It was the period of SARS.
I was called down to the medical service.
“There are nodules on your lungs.
We want you to go to a doctor right away. Now.
Do not go back to your office to get your coat.”
But I have to go! It’s 30 degrees out!
I have to speak with my boss, close my computer!
“OK, but don’t linger.
And don’t worry – it’s probably not SARS,
It’s probably TB or lung cancer –
Er, probably TB.”
TB test later, it’s not TB.
PT scan –results in,
But strange doctor’s office (from the list not vetted)
Wouldn’t give me the results until I came in
On their next office day, which was Monday.
It was Friday. Two day’s wait.
PT negative.
I rested at home.
A few weeks later, the Medical Service
(from the large international organization)
Called to see how I was and to ask,
“Was the treatment you received from our doctor OK?
Was the doctor on our list
(simply compiled) OK?”
Terrified to complain,
Afraid my sick-leave my be rescinded,
I simply said,
Oh yes.

The attached isn’t really a poem-but it is a true story.
Hoping we can continue 10-10-10 past this week-it is amazing. Thank you, Dave and Poets House.
-Nayana Hein

This is a photo of me
looking uncomfortable,
trying to figure out
what a smile looks like,
wanting to be
on the other side
of the camera,
where I know
how to capture
other people’s smiles.

— Bea

This is a photograph of me.
I’d rather describe my personality than my luxe.
I am spiritual with an encouraging
and positive outlook on life.
My photograph would be a smile,
because I love to laugh and have fun.


When I was nine I dressed as a mummy for Halloween.

It took hours for me to put on make-up and rap myself
up in gauze bandages.

Every year my town had a contest for best Halloween

I went with my family to be judge in the Village Green.

There were many families and different costumes.

Three children were to be chosen by the judges.

To my delight, I was chosen as a winner and
climbed the stage to get my reward.

I was given a medal, it read: the funniest.

They said, because the gauze I was wearing
kept slipping off. Hilarious they said.

My brothers laughed at me also.

My mother put her arm around me.
As a photograph was taken for the Village Paper.

Dear Dave Johnson,
I really enjoyed the poem you read today by Margaret Atwood.
Attached is my photograph poem.
Take care
-Mike Cunningham

This is a photograph of me
At the salon they made me up
then took pictures, then went away
to look at them, I presumed on a big screen,
then came back, took more, went away,
took more. I presumed there were flaws
or the angle did not disguise the hook in my nose.
Finally they were done and I left with all that make-up on, not
knowing how garish it was.
This was before the bike crash, and
the surgeries, and also
this was before I broke my nose on the
whale watching boat,
before I drove from there to
the country club, and no one
said a thing about the gashes on my face
and the end of my nose that was becoming
like a cauliflower ear.
That photograph ended up published
in a book. At that time, my nose was hooked.

-Devin Dougherty

This Photograph Is My Altar
I haven’t used my camera in a while
to capture myself. So I embraced it
in my hands and faced it to my mirror
in the dim light of a cloudy day;
half my face shrouded in darkness.
in it you can see the effigies of myself
that I have collected, sneaking their way
in — flowers made of music sheets,
an artificial rose, the alien mask
with a tiny reflector as its third eye,
the meditiation that could hang from
a door knob, the bald woman
dressed in sun and a necklace of moons,
the blue sticky notes before me and the mountain of investments I clothe my body
with rising to what could be a drawing of me
at rest with my name blossoming in my locs.
Although you see me in this photograph,
I do not exist; the things you barely see,
can barely be captured, are what do
and in them you might be able to see
a brief snapshot of me.

-Sherese Francis

A Photograph of Myself
I am queen of the selfies
Before selfies were a thing
This morning after I took out the rollers
And piled up my hair, stuck in a knitting needle from my desk to keep it out of the way
And wearing no makeup because who needs makeup in covid time
I snapped a selfie with my iPhone.
What did I think I would see?
Precious life no matter what .

-Pearl Shifer