Skip to content ↓

plastic knives spraypainted silver by Audrey C. '24

and other poems from 21W.762

This fall, I took 21W.762 Poetry Workshop with Ed Barrett, a popular class amongst bloggers. 21W.762 was by far the most easygoing class I’ve taken at MIT: every week we’d write a poem in our own time and then read it out aloud during class for a round of feedback. And that was it! I’ve never really written poetry beyond the flowery text in my zine comics, so I appreciated having a non-judgemental environment to experiment with language vulnerably. 

Here are a few poems that I wrote! Ed gave us suggested forms for each week, but it was completely up to us if we wanted to actually follow the form or modify the form to our liking. 

1. i did not like my summer internship

“i love going to Trader Joes to pick up chicks,” 

my coworker coos, recounting his afterwork escapades between sips of White Claw, 

“the waitress was hot so I tipped her extra” 


i go to Trader Joe’s to pick up caprese ravioli and pork shu mai 

and let the whirr of the office microwave drown out the thought that he, 

“loves going to Trader Joes to pick up chicks”


i learn about the overturn of Roe v. Wade over Keurig-brewed coffee, 

angry and confused as to how, until I realize that this is the same world where 

“the waitress was hot so i tipped her extra” 


my pain is a stone fruit whose pit swells against my epiglottis, 

whose rotten flesh I cannot vomit out in an office where everyone else is a man, including one who

“loves going to Trader Joes to pick up chicks”


i drag myself into the Women’s ERG Slack Channel,  

seeking refuge from being baptized by spit flying from his testosterone fueled charisma: 

“the waitress was hot so i tipped her extra” 


i message my manager saying that I’m taking the rest of the day off, 

because I have a bad stomach ache, or so i say

“i love going to Trader Joes to pick up chicks”

“the waitress was hot so I tipped her extra” 


This poem followed a villanelle’s pattern of repetition, in which the first and third lines are repeated throughout alternating stanzas of the poem.  The repeated lines unfortunately were actual quotes from a fellow intern this past summer. This poem could use more wordsmithing to smooth out awkward areas, but it was cathartic to write and therefore served its purpose. 

My summer internship had seemed perfect on paper. A dream come true, even. Once it actually started, I quickly felt disillusioned. Between working in an isolating environment, struggling under a supervisor who simultaneously maintained high expectations but didn’t have the time to properly support me, getting woken up at 5am every morning by my subleaser’s rabbit from hell, and putting up with an absolute slob of a roommate, my summer was rough. It took everything in me to not toss my work laptop in one of the many dumpsters ubiquitous to the streets of Manhattan. I now know that my experience wasn’t and shouldn’t be the norm, but a part of me still fears not being able to hold down a Real Job in the future.

2. when sapphics say love is in the air

when i am with you, 

we expand to fill the night sky’s infinity

your river of hair tickles the stars and

city lights blink like shiny pebbles between our toes

i want to pluck the silver flower of moonlight 

and tuck it behind your ear 

i want to weave the threads of cloud 

into an infinity scarf that can wrap around the both of us


being with you makes me see

that everything is so beautiful 

from a height where

to stay grounded is to float away, where 

to come out is to stay in 

your arms


i want my lips to be the wind that brushes against your cheek 


gouache painting of two girls holding hands in front of a purple galaxy

painted using gouache (an opaque watercolor)! this is the first time i’ve used gouache since high school, which is bittersweet since i used to paint a ton

Ed is a firm believer in the idea that every poem is a love poem. Perhaps one could argue that by giving space to my anger and frustration, the shitty coworker poem was a love poem to myself. But I wanted to try writing an “actual” love poem, one bundled with good feels and good feels only. I was inspired by the song Sweater Weather’s themes of creating your own bubble of warmth and intimacy that protects you from a cold and callous outside world. Although I’ll always see poetry as an outlet for angst, I wish for a future full of love poems, the mushy gushy kind. 

3. plastic knives spraypainted silver

“Mom, where did I come from?”

Oh darling, I found you in the dump! 


Your heart is a clay pot whose cracks 

I repaired with shrimp paste, 

don’t let the weight of your secrets reopen them.


Your lungs are the two back tires 

I unscrewed from a Honda, 

the front two lost all their air when that Honda embraced a tree. 


Your ribs are mismatching pieces of silverware 

(mostly plastic knives spraypainted silver), 

but I laid a real gold spoon right above your clay pot heart. 


Your stomach is a leather makeup purse 

whose dirty spots I rubbed clean with vinegar, 

keep it zipped shut for I want your beauty to come from within.


Your teeth are fragments of stone

that I tumbled against each other for weeks, 

to smooth the edges that could cut your delicate cheek.


Your eyes are the lenses of disposable cameras 

whose film you’ve since replaced, 

But I hope you can forever see and remember that I love you 


This poem is a blazon, a form that traditionally lists off parts of a woman’s body in comparison to desirable objects. Yikes. Contemporary blazons still list physical attributes or body parts, but in a way that either subverts the objectifying male gaze or tackles completely different themes. 

I was thinking about how parents from different cultures explain where babies come from, like how storks delivering babies from the sky is primarily a European tradition. While I believe my parents told me something vague like “you came out of your mother’s stomach,” it’s common for Asian immigrant parents to tell their children “we found you in the dumpster!” I’m guessing the intent is to instill gratitude within their children. A demeaning way of doing so, that is. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this, and it’s out of the same affection that you might jokingly call your close friends “trash.” 

In this poem, I wanted to write about an imperfect parental love. A fierce love that comes with the best of intentions to give their children a life better than their own. I will never have to experience hardships of the same magnitude that older generations of my family did, which I am intensely grateful for, but their hurt inevitably trickled into my upbringing despite how fiercely they loved me. Ultimately, shrimp paste only goes so far for keeping clay pot hearts together; therapy tends to be a stronger adhesive. 

4. yet another sleepless night

did you turn off the stove? did your words

hit a sore spot in her heart? you messed up 

so badly early and I’ll make sure 

that you replay that scene in your head over and over again—

something tells me that that sleep tonight

is not going to come easy


the way the bedsheets brush against my skin uneasily 

phantom itches that only multiply with the avalanche of words

that i wish i could spit out tonight

as unrefrigerated perishables, loose screws, toilet seats left up,

the itches announce themselves again—

maybe you should check the stove just to be sure 


if the gas was still on, i’d be unconscious by now. surely

rationalizing my overactive brain into sleep can’t the easy 

way out, the way that once again

stupid, irrational fears render themselves into words

flashing costume jewelry gold on the marquee lit up

inside my brain, announcing which horror film is on for tonight


i am scared of how the night

is slowly wasting away into day, but surely

i still have time to wander into the land of dreams. walk up 

the stairs, one two three. walk down the stairs, one two three. easy

your breathing, ease your mind, until her words

that I wish to forget resurface once again


oh how stupid you must be to let that get to you again

your rage is useless in the night

your screams will only carry empty words

you can punch something, sure 

but nothing will give you the easy 

relief that you so crave —to win this night is to give up


am i even waking up 

if i never fell asleep in the first place? again

the morning light taunts me, telling me at least it’ll be easy

for my worn out body and mind to find asleep the next night

i ask the sun, are you sure?

he only continues to shrivel my eyes dry, smiling without a word


It’s a sestina! Fatima and Alan’s blog explains it concisely: “a sestina is a poetry form consisting of six sestets, having the same six end words in each of the stanzas, but in a different order. The poem ends with a tercet which has two of the end words per line.” (speaking of which, I can’t wait for their sestinas to grace the blogs!! much hype) I ended up forgoing the ending tercet though, since a) I procrastinated by writing this poem right before class and b) the story already felt complete. 

Right after I wrote a blog about being happy and generally doing well, shit hit the fan. Unfortunately my ability to fall asleep was impacted by said shit, inspiring this poem. If anyone finds an effective prophylaxis against jinxing yourself, please let me know. Life happening aside, I’m proud of this poem’s imagery and found the sestina incredibly fun to write!