{pf: poetry peeps eavesdropped & overheard}

Poetry Peeps! You’re invited to our challenge in the month of February! Here’s the scoop: We’re doing Exquisite Corpse poetry. These collaborative poems necessarily involve yourself and at least one other passing lines or stanzas along, so now’s the time to start choosing compatriots. Are you in? Good! You’ve got a month to craft your creation(s), then share your offering with the rest of us on February 25th in a post and/or on social media with the tag .


Seeing as I’ve stayed in lately, I was fully prepared to use the random conversations the neighbor has with the postman for my “eavesdropped and overheard” when I overheard something wholly unintentionally. The Boy was on a work Zoom with a coworker that turned personal. A young female in a male-dominated field, she was desperate for advice over what to me seemed a clear case of workplace harassment. I won’t recount details, but a single line I couldn’t erase from memory. She said, “I don’t want to ruin his life forever.”

You can imagine the angst and dread in her voice as she said it, and my chills as I heard it. “Ruin” is the same hyperbole used in the 2016 California court case when a judge handed down a six month sentence to a man who assaulted an unconscious woman. As his whole life shouldn’t be ruined, he was given six months – of which he served three. “Ruin” is a word used for thousand year old civilization remains, for catastrophic damage after a tsunami, not for a person being confronted with the consequences of their actions. I wanted to tell my husband’s young coworker this and so many, many other things… but it was neither my conversation nor my business, so I poured the words into a poem.

(Thank goodness for poetry.)

I searched first for a form that had repetition, and the pantoum lent itself neatly, as the thoughts I had bounced around in different order, sometimes making sense, other times making new ideas. I suspect all the reasons, defenses, excuses and facts bounced through this woman’s head as well. I’m not sure I like all the lines equally… I’m not sure that I wouldn’t, a day or two later, want to say something else, but this is a pantoum written in a single, heated, emotional moment. It’s all I have to bring today— This, and my heart beside—

NO: A Choice in Two Voices

Does a single choice shape every endeavor?
(Without your consent NO still means no.)
“I don’t want to ruin his life forever.”
(Your choice belongs solely to you, you know.)

Without your consent, NO still means NO –
No negotiation, this two letter word.
Your choice belongs solely to you. You know
If you change your mind, your “no” will still be heard.

No negotiation, this two-letter word –
No need to ever defend those letters.
If you change your mind, your “no” will still be heard
You choose, so you’re still the pace-setter.

No need to ever defend those letters,
“I don’t want to ruin his life forever…”
You choose, so you’re still the pace-setter
This single choice could shape every endeavor.


There’s an awful lot of poetic scuttlebutt being passed on the interwebs today. Laura’s poem is here. Cousin Mary Lee is over hearing over here, while Sara is here listening. Liz is is right here. Miss Andi’s beautiful tribute is here. Here’s Michelle’s artful and art-filled post, and here’s Carol V’s. More Poetry Peeps may yet be stopping by, so stay tuned.

Need more? Poetry Friday today is hosted by Irene Latham at Live Your Poem. Thanks, Irene!


Happy Weekend – it’s sometimes a cold, hard world out there as we all know. Keep warm, keep well, and keep going, friends. You’ve got this.

15 Replies to “{pf: poetry peeps eavesdropped & overheard}”

  1. I want to shout your poem from the rooftops and I want every woman to shout it out too. Why do we think we are the ones “ruining” a life? These men ruin their own lives (along with the other lives they destroy). When women do speak up, they are not ruining a life, they are justifiably knocking down a pretense, a shield, a lie.

  2. Oh, Tanita. I feel for that young woman. She is showing more empathy to her harrasser than they showed her. I’ve been thinking a lot about consent lately — ways to make it clear that we get to be the “pace-setter” not only with our bodies and our workplace boundaries, but also with our poems, our writing.

  3. “…a young woman could still feel at fault when all she did was exist…” How indeed can this still be happening? Oh, wait. Look at the recent history of our country’s leadership and the news of the day. All the more reason to fight back and teach young people the power of NO. I love how that last line has such very different meaning for the girl (at the end of the poem) and for her harasser (in the second line). The line I love the most is one I overheard you say in our Zoom: “No is a complete sentence.” This poem needs to be in a YA anthology and/or every HS English classroom for close reading!

    1. I agree completely with Mary Lee. Anthologize this, image and all. No need to ever defend those letters! Brilliantly played this overheard line. I don’t know how you resisted butting in. I have a hard time keeping quiet when a woman is being taken advantage of. Ugh! When will they learn?

  4. Tanita, to listen in to your conversation overheard was like being in the moment. So many thoughts revolved around my head. What would I do? How would I respond. Your poem evolves from a question to deep concern to the reckoning with choice. The flow to this poem is smooth and keeps the reader wondering. I felt your angst.

  5. I like your gradual move, over your poem moving away from an absolute to a small sliver of another option, and then your dramatic closing line with how important the choice is. Clever poem, love your design of it too, thanks Tanita!

    1. @Michelle: Thank you – it really sort of evolved on its own. I tried to keep in mind the very real concerns of people involved in these kinds of questions and look at things from all angles, but really having the choice IS huge. A privilege.

    1. @saralewisholmes: Thank you. I think I’m more upset about this whole thing than the person to whom it happened… I think I was just shaken that something so dumb could still happen, and a young woman could still feel at fault when all she did was exist…

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