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Captive Refrain

by Hannah

but if anyone asks,
tell them we're fine."
And the seams on the box went quiet for days.

It only took a few hours for you and I to
get bored and drive out to the hardware store;
we bought two boxes of lightbulbs -- I held
one in each hand --
and you carried the extension cords to the woman at the counter.
We paid in bills fresh and warm from the bank.

And for a week -- between cups of tea
warmed in the sun from the kitchen window, between
sandwiches we shaped into stars with cookie cutters -- 
we hung the lightbulbs from the sockets in the ceiling.
And we wondered if they knew
we didn't have any honey after all.

"If anyone asks," came the voice on the 22nd,
"we're fine. You remember?"
"We remember," I said. I looked at you silently.
They would never know.

There were hunger moans on only the thirteenth day
and it made me remember
the day we went for a walk 
under the overpass there was a homeless man
near the path.
And tucked back under the supports
was the cage and the blanket covering it:
the sound of dying dog echoed.
I had to swallow hard to keep walking.

I don't know about you.

But it wasn't long before we passed crumpled bills 
we'd thrown into the washing machine to try
to get the feeling off our fingerprints
over to the counter girl
and drizzled honey slowly
and slowly
into the seams of the box.

They drank it silently
and when fifteen minutes let the sun move
from the first line of grout to the next,
the children in the box said,

"But if anyone asks,
tell them

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806 Reviews

Points: 1883
Reviews: 806

Sat Jul 13, 2013 5:46 pm
Aley says...

I'm having a hard time deciding if I really like this poem for all the techniques, tricks, and mystery, or if I don't like it. The main problem I'm having with the poem is that it is so connected, that it seems like you could start anywhere. To me, it seems the first stanza is not the start of the poem. It's like you're showing us this has been going on for years, and it's going to keep going on for years. Nothing's going to change the problem you're presenting to us. At the same time, it's a little hard to understand whether or not the problem is actually a problem the main people are having or if the problem is something they're seeing. It sounds like the family speaking is poor and they're making due with what they have. I can't tell if they live in a box, or if they live in a shabby apartment. I don't know if the extension chord is making the outlet for the light bulbs or if the ceiling is actually a ceiling.

It's that ambiguity that I like though. You're letting me decide whether these people are living how they want, or living how they can. The repetition of telling other people they're fine is cool too because it allows us to choose ourselves who we and they are. That being said, I do think you could improve on the 4th stanza. It's a little jarring because the original other speaker is a voice, just that, nothing more. It's not me, or you, it's a voice. When the speaker looks at 'you' though, it makes me wonder whether you are the one who spoke originally, or if the voice on 22nd street was a third individual. I believe it's a third individual, but I have no way of confirming it, and no real setting for where 'we' are as opposed to 'the voice' or even 'them' so it's a little disorienting.

Aside from that, I'd say I like this poem quite a bit. I love how you have it cyclical, and open to interpretation. There's a little bit of work that I think could be done with setting, but I can't say it 100% needs the work, just something that you might be able to improve if you so choose.

Merry Christmas!

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Points: 632
Reviews: 1

Sun Mar 10, 2013 5:53 pm
hudakp says...

Really good.

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862 Reviews

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Reviews: 862

Sun Feb 24, 2013 8:04 am
Morrigan wrote a review...

Hi there, Hannah.

As always, I loved reading this, and was swept away by all the vivid images you include. Lovely.

Now, if I hadn't read the prompt regarding this poem, I probably wouldn't quite know what was going on in it. You have a lot of (beautiful) images that you don't connect quite clearly enough. As it is, I'm still a bit confused.

And we wondered if they knew
we didn't have any honey after all.

This is the first instance of confusion. Honey comes out of nowhere, and when you use "and" at the beginning of a sentence, it implies (to me at least) that the subject has been introduced before. But I don't understand how hardware stores or lightbulbs are related to honey. Also, I'd try to more clearly identify the "they" you speak of.

From here on out, I simply become more confused. I understand that in a poem, there are things that the readers are never going to understand, and that's okay. That's the way the author wanted it. But here, there is too much confusion to find the clarity under the beautiful oil rainbows on the surface. I can't find the fish I want to eat below the rainbows.

I think that also, it is a little long. You could certainly cut out some of it and save those bits for other poems.

While this poem is beautiful, it's bits and pieces of yarn that haven't quite been knitted into a scarf yet. Or perhaps a tea cozy. Right now, it's yarn. But beautiful yarn. I hope this review was useful to you. Happy writing!

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483 Reviews

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Reviews: 483

Sun Feb 24, 2013 5:32 am
Meshugenah wrote a review...

Hannah! I meant to review this a few days ago when the prompt went up (because I need to write something for it, too!), but uh, after that didn't happen, I figured it'd be good for review day :P

OK. Oh, Hannah. So, I've read this through a few times now, and I'm torn between love and confusion. First and last stanzas and title I'm with you, and really like what you've done with them.

As to the rest. It makes me uneasy, partly because I feel like there's something mixed in your metaphors that I'm supposed to get that I'm not, and I'm not sure why I'm not connecting the dots. For sure, part of this is because I simply love your language so much and what you're doing with some of the repeating images - the honey and the bills - what's lost on me is the significance of the honey itself. I'm also getting lost as to what/who, exactly, is in the box - I mean, I keep getting this vision of an ant farm (er, something like that - the lights keep equating to heat sources in my head, so some kind of animal?), and this "world within a world" image.

But, then the grout line both encourages that and discourages it - like, kids playing on a tiled surface (I think kitchen counter, but I'm pretty sure that's my childhood butting in), with a "box" of some kind of animal sitting there, being examined by your narrator - food, extra lighting/heat - yeah. Does that even make sense, anymore? But, you also see where I'm getting a bit turned around. And, maybe it's me.

That aside! I love your language, and how the words feel. I'm not entirely convinced I have to entirely understand exactly where I'm losing the thread of your narrative, or even if it entirely matters - not only because I love your words, but because the way I'm reading this, it's almost more important to deal with the images you have evoked, rather than following an entirely coherent narrative thread. But, then I argue with myself about that bit rather constantly, so take it with a grain of salt ^^

Anyway! Thanks for a lovely read!


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413 Reviews

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Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:03 am
Cailey wrote a review...

Yay! I've been meaning to review something of yours for a long time. Normally I would ask if there was one you specifically wanted to have reviewed, but I found this and it only had one review so I decided to read it. However, feel free to let me know if you have anything else you'd like reviewed. :)
Okay, so I really like your style of writing. It's really lovely and I enjoyed reading this. Now, I will accept the challenge of reviewing one of the best reviewers that has reviewed my work. (Pretend like that sentence made sense.)
So, first of all, it felt like you didn't have enough punctuation in here. Maybe this is just because I'm used to reading poetry where the writer goes comma happy and just adds punctuation after every single line because "that's what you're supposed to do", and you don't do that. However, I do think you missed a few punctuations in there.
Also, is this unfinished? Your ending seemed really abrupt and incomplete. I think one more line would have done the trick and added some conclusion, but the way you have this just makes it a little bit annoying. :)
I also didn't like some of your breaks. I'm thinking you had a specific reason for the breaks, such as the space between remember and the next line?
And is there a reason you have several lowercase letter where they would normally be capitalized? Or a reason for why you hardly ever make line breaks at the same time as punctuation breaks? If not, maybe you should either fix those or come up with a reason.
I don't think I have anything else to say. Other than the odd breaks, which were a bit annoying to me, I really liked this.
Oh, I remembered something else. You describe the money from the bank as being fresh and warm. When I think of new money I always think crisp and cold rather than fresh and warm. I guess that was more of a commen than anything else. :)
Hope this review was at least a little bit helpful!

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24 Reviews

Points: 594
Reviews: 24

Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:02 am
TheMarauderBandit wrote a review...

Hannah, my dear, wonderful person! How're you? Good? Good. Now. In all seriousness, I have arrived to review your poem. Sit back, relax, grab a bowl of popcorn, and enjoy. (This is my first time on the job of reviewing a master's, so... bear with me, I'm a newb.) Let's start with the first impressions, shall we?

Yes, yes, I know all poems don't have to be even and smooth and all the same length, and all that jazz, but it's been a serious concern lately that stanzas are not the same size. And this is a major offender. I'm going to have to report it to the police, because it is seriously bothering me. You want your piece to flow, you want it to go nicely, and when the stanzas are different length, willy-nilly all over the place, it goes down with a fight.

My second first impression (a-ha, see what I did there?) was that this is a bit on the long side. Dear, poems are meant to be short, wonderful, sweet and magical. And you can't really achieve this if it's the size of a (veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery) short story, now can you? Cut it up a bit, make it more readable, more enjoyable, and more pleasing to the eye.

Now that we're done with those, let's move over to the... positive side of things, yeah? Because who doesn't love to have their ego waxed and polished with a nice, big, juicy slice of compliments?

First off (and I'm not just saying this because you're wonderful), I really enjoyed this poem in the end. Especially the full, round circle of things. I've never really seen it been done before with an author (and that's probably because I'm a newb hiding in my basement, never actually reading things until review days roll around), but I thought it was creative. It was unique. It was... snazzy. I liked it, and it helped deliver your message.

Which is another thing. I liked the story this told, not every poem has one. Some just kind of listlessly go on and on without any meaning what-so-ever, but not Hannah's! She told a story, and a brilliant one at that. Major props there, I applaud you.

Also, your wording. You of all people know how to make these words shine and dance and sparkle and... flow. And you've done it, good on ya! You've made your poem fit together wonderfully, and I loved it. I bow to you, my Hannah, great job.

I've already hit the bulk of my negative complaints with the first impression, and I can't really see any grammar mistakes (other than the intentional un-capitalization at the beginning and the end), so I'll just leave that there. Even combing through this, I'm sure there won't be much I can find wrong.

And with that, I bid you adieu! Magnificent poem, and I hope to read from you again soon, my dear!

Much love...

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54 Reviews

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Sat Feb 23, 2013 10:25 am
silentpatronus wrote a review...


I'm going to attempt to review for you!

but if anyone asks,
tell them we're fine."

If you're quoting something you need to firstly have opening quotation marks. Secondly if you're using punctuation then you have to be consistent all the way through. It looks neater that way and therefore The 'but' needs to have a capitalised 'b'.

And we wondered if they knew

The repetition of the word 'and' doesn't seem necessary. You use it far too often and for me it stops the immediate flow of the poem

it wasn't long before we passed crumpled bills
we'd thrown into the washing machine to try
to get the feeling off our fingerprints
over to the counter girl
and drizzled honey slowly
and slowly
into the seams of the box.

Compared to the rest of the poem this sentence seems to drag on for a while with no punctuation. Whilst it flows well, there needs to be a breathing point. There needs to be something that creates more of a feeling to this stanza.

But if anyone asks,
tell them

Okay firstly you need a full stop at the end, unless your intention is to leave us lingering? But then again you need to close the quotation.

Overall, I think this is a pretty good poem, I must say. Although for me, the layout can be slightly confusing but the wording is immaculate.


This is a house of homes, a sacred place, by human passion made divinely sweet.
— Alfred Joyce Kilmer