When You Can’t Move, Memorize a Poem

One night, while standing up too quickly from a chair, your kneecap slides out of its groove. The next morning you are unable to walk and unable to train for your first marathon. You slide on your butt down the stairs and hop between the couch and the table on your good leg. As you avoid going to the doctor, you feel trapped. Bored. Restless. You need to find a way to move again.

Background Reading:


One || Pick a poem

One of your favorites, maybe the first poem you remember reading as a kid.

Two || Memorize it 

Sit at the table before anyone else is up and whisper it to yourself over and over again until you own it.

Three || Recite it from memory 

Speak it to a willing family member–a daughter? the dog, perhaps? To the mirror? Into your smart phone?

Four || Repeat steps 1-3

The next morning, find another poem to memorize. Find, memorize, recite. Keep doing this until you feel better or you finally make an appointment with a doctor or you are able to move by the gorge.

Bonus || Write a Cento*

Working mostly from memory, pick out your favorite lines from the memorized poems and turn them into a new poem.

*A cento is a poetic form composed entirely of lines from other poems.

Double Bonus || Write an Essay

Pick out more of your favorite lines from the memorized poems and use them as epigraphs in an essay about your emotions during injury.

Poems I’ve Memorized

Combined with Some Prose

  • Long Life (Mary Oliver)
  • “Attention and Will” (Simone Weil)

Cento: Unmixed Attention Is Not Will