All Are Numbered

Moving along the narrow grassy rows
Under a sherbet sky, time seems to be
The only place where nothing ever grows
Or dies, and grass remains, eternally
Quite clipped and orderly. It truly shows
That someone, somewhere, sometime gave it care.
Each blade of landscape preens itself, and knows
Whatever it may know. And we compare
The picking of the fellow on the stair
Playing what he calls oiling music, slow.
To lengthening of grass. The mower’s snare
Is measured by his song. We’ll come and go,
Yet always will this perfect moment stay;
A timeless mowing tune, an hourless day.

—from Measured by Song



A Brief Genealogy

poem for the 800th celebration of the founding of Liverpool

I am a late Plantagenet
Without distinction, true. But yet
Thomas of Brotherton starts my line,
And though King John is not quite mine
I won’t complain. Fair Liverpool
Was founded by this king so cruel
Who got the land in 1207,
Then sent my ancestress to Heaven
For talking politics or such—
Perhaps it was she talked too much.
He tossed the key, she met the stare
Of dungeon keepers; tore her hair,
Moaned and pleaded, wept and wailed,
Starved in her cell, securely jailed,
Loquaciousness her only crime—
Also a tendency of mine.




Our playground, both in June or wintry snow,
Was now a home to gypsies settled there
Upon that shallow creek bank. I could see

My sister, in pink curlers, sleeping… oh,
I still wish I could fly into that rare
Perfumed June night, where sparks hung eerily.

I’d drift downhill to where a flickering glow
Arose on velvet solstice nights, just where
That campfire joined the sunset; I could see

Dark figures, dipping, make a fiery show
Where every secret song and dance might share,
With violins, the sinuous mystery.

As dancing figures dignified our wood,
I might have danced with them and understood.



A former Wilbur Fellow and six-time Pushcart nominee, Sally Cook is a regular contributor to National Review, and has appeared in venues as varied as Chronicles, Lighten Up On Line, and TRINACRIA. Also a painter, her present works in the style known as Magic Realism are represented in national collections such as the N.S.D.A.R. Museum in Washington, D.C. and The Burchfield-Penney, Buffalo, NY.

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28 Responses

  1. James Sale

    Wonderful poetry, Sally, especially All Are Numbered – reminds me of the Larkin 1914 poem – a sense of timelessness pervading existence – the absence of the main verb in ‘lengthening of grass’, which I assume deliberate for several reasons. Marvellous – thanks for a great read.

    • Sally Cook

      James, you always look beyond the obvious. Yes, timelessnes is the theme of this poem. Thinking of the speed at which grass grows, it might take years for the landscape to change, and the rippling guitar arpeggios complete their measures. Certain musical notes can be like blades of grass.

      Sensitive people react to this. Thoughtful people take it one step further. You are one of those people; I thank you for taking that step.

  2. jd

    Wow to all three which call for thoughtful reading and re-reading. Thank you, Sally Cook.

    • Sally Cook

      JD —
      I appreciate your taking my words seriously.

      My approach can be very different from some others, often requiring a close reading. You are willing to give this, and I thank you

  3. Shaun C. Duncan

    These are fantastic, Sally. I particularly like ‘Sisters’ – I have not come across a sonnet composed of tercets before and the abcabc rhyme scheme combined with clever use of enjambment gives the piece a more subtle sense of musicality which gives the closing couplet extra punch. The language is gorgeous too.

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Shaun –
      Do you have teaching or reveiwing in your background? I ask because of your clear analysis of my work. After reading what you had to say, I left quite impressed with myself!

      Thank you so much !!

      One question: do you consider writing poems a sort of game? that is to say is it only a game with (w/o rules,) or is it more than that to you, and if so, more in what way?

      Would truly like to know.’

      • Shaun C. Duncan

        I’ve never taught or written criticism but I do try to offer substantial comments here, rather than just saying “good work!” Analysing what I like in someone else’s work also helps me to improve my own.

        I do think of poetry as a sort of game. I often liken it to solving a puzzle. The primary pleasure I take from writing poetry is in satisfying the requirements of form and any desire for self expression is a distant second – I’m perfectly capable of expressing myself verbally to the people around me or on social media if there’s something I desperately need to say. I honestly have no idea why someone would want to write free verse aside from pure ego and I find it very telling that the pioneers of free verse tended to be narcissists (*cough* Whitman).

        None of this is to say I don’t value content – a poem must be worth reading, after all and I’m obviously a person with strong opinions, like many others here. I’ve had a pretty rich creative life outside of poetry though as a writer, musician and photographer so for me the joy of creating art lies purely in the exploration of form. There are other pleasures to be had too, but I try to not look for anything more as it easier to keep creating every day, whatever my mood, and it helps me to focus on improving my craft.

  4. David Watt

    All three poems readily transported me to their distinct place and time.
    Although choosing a favorite is a difficult task, the imagery, interesting form, and poetic flow of ‘Sisters’ makes it my personal pick.

  5. Cynthia Erlandson

    Sally, I especially enjoyed the captivating imagery of the campfire joining the sunset, and the dark moving figures of the dancers in that light, in “Sisters”. I also found its rhyme scheme lovely, and was fascinated by the interwoven nature of the rhyme scheme of “All Are Numbered.”

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Cynthia,
      You always catch some detail others might miss. That bit about the sunset and the campfire melding; — it so often happens in real life, does it not? And yet all of us tend to take it for granted most of the time. But you tend to search out these things. Isn’t that what makes poets?
      Thanks so much,

    • Sally Cook

      Dear Joe — Nor do you, my friend and mentor. Even when I have felt the lash of your sharp tongue, it has always been honest. This makes your praise mean more.

  6. Paul Freeman

    I think Joe mentioned Cautionary Tales the other day. ‘A Brief Genealogy’ struck me as such. It galloped along and I found it very humorous.

    Thanks for the reads, Sally.

    • Sally Cook

      Paul, I am so happy to hear you enjoyed “A Brief Genealogy” Believe me, it is not easy to write something funny about one of your ancestors who was locked up and starved to death, especially when it was because she spoke out !
      Yesm its all true.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Sally Cook

    Dear David –
    If you enjoy poems about Gypsies, then you might also like paintings about them.
    Evan kiindly placed a link to a virtual SIUNYAB exhibition which was canceled by Ex-Gov. Cuomo two hours before the scheduled opening It is out there in many formats, here is one:
    It is a self portrait titled:
    ‘Gypsy At The Carnival Of Life”

  8. Jeff Eardley

    Sally, I had to read the first a few times to get the rhythm to what could be a beautiful song. The second was a fascinating tale of one of my favourite cities. The third sent me into pure Thomas Hardy territory. This is all wonderful, thoughtful poetry. Thank you.

    • Sally Cook

      Jeff, thank you for your considered words.
      It may be that the things that “get in the way” could be those things which are there to keep the idea timeless. I would like to hear more specifics. The idea of rational exchange between poets is something I find very valuable; it is not based on race, sex, or political opinion.
      If you have time or are interested in getting deeper into the topic, please do.

  9. Sally Cook

    Shaun, I must apologize for bombarding you with those myriad questions. You and I seem to agree on most everything! I’ve been working on something in which I try to define what makes a poet.
    You were kind enoutgh to answer all I asked.
    I am pretty sure now that a knowledge of music precedes an interest in poetic form, so thanks for that. I also started early with music; at age 4, on piano — I like to say the piano drove me crazy !
    If I have more qeuestions, may I come back to you?
    – you have been a big help, and I am sure any furthyer response frome you will interest me.

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      These aren’t subjects I get to talk about outside of the SCP so I’m more than happy to answer any questions you care to throw at me. You can email me any time via scduncan AT protonmail.com or via my website (just do a search for my name and you’ll find my business site).

      I think an interest in music can certainly help refine your understanding of poetic form, particularly helping to escape the plodding metronomic quality which can result from taking a simplistic approach to meter. It’s also a great benefit in reading poetry, even if you don’t write.

  10. Margaret Coats

    Sally and Shaun, you might be interested to know that the Victorian factory-worker poet, John Critchley Prince, wrote sonnets structured in tercets. You can find “I pause and listen for the Cuckoo’s voice” by putting that first line WITH THE AUTHOR’S NAME into an online search engine. Without his name, the results will all be birdsong articles. For more, you would have to looks at his books in an online library, and sort through all his sonnets, as he uses various forms. A tercet sonnet here at SCP is my “The Cimmerian Sibyl” in the post “Sibylline Sonnets for Advent.” The rhyme scheme is aab ccb dde ffe gg (easier than Sally’s abc abc abc abc dd in “Sisters”). Sally also sews her four tercets into a pair of sestets, using the statement “I could see” twice in the poem. Interesting technique to prepare for a freely frolicking couplet!

    • Shaun C. Duncan

      Thank you, Margaret. I’d not heard of Prince but have found a collection of his poems on a site called “Minor Victorian Writers” which sounds like it might have some other gems too.

      I remember reading your Sibylline Sonnets when they were published here last year and the quality and depth of the work nearly frightened me off submitting any of my own to the site (which was my new year’s resolution at the time). I hadn’t noticed one of them was composed in tercets. I’m looking forward to trying myself some time.

  11. Brian Yapko

    Each of these poems is an exceptionally evocative gem, Sally. Thank you for a wonderful, thoughtful read.

    • Sally Cook

      Brian, yoiur comments always carry exceptional weight and meaning.
      Thank you so much !

  12. Julian D. Woodruff

    I find Numbered and Sisters mysterious though enticing. I am bedazzled. What color (flavor) sherbet, betokening what? Time as a place. There is a mower, yet each blade preens itself. And especially, can one access the complete poem (or collection?) online?
    Both/or (Sisters, line 1). I might have danced (but didn’t, so don’t understand the secret song and dance?). How to read the pointed instances of enjambment in both.
    Maybe you don’t have time to address all of this (I’ve been selective myself), but for any points you might care to make I’d be grateful.

    • Sally Cook

      Julian, pale orange sherbet, As for “secret song and dance”, don’t gypsies always have secrets, expressed in song and dance?

      The poem may be found in my book Making Music, available on Amazon. Thanks for taking an interest.

  13. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Dearest Sally, you always tap into the magic of words to create images that come alive and slip beneath my skin with their wonder. I especially like “sherbet sky” and “velvet solstice nights” – the sexy sibilance appeals. Your wisdom and humor shine in the first two poems, but it’s “Sisters” that moves me the most… the mystery, the magic, the intrigue… you paint a linguistic picture that enthralls and delights… the mark of fine poetry. Thank you, my friend!

  14. Sally Cook

    Dear Susan —
    You’ve done it – you have caught me out in my adjectival mode.
    And about that sherbet sky ! I know you’ve seen it – just before a late June sunset – the sky turns from pale yellow to a tint of faintest tangerine.
    Thanks for noticing !
    PS – Oreo has been replaced by a new Orphington —
    Best —
    The Dame

  15. C.B. Anderson

    Though every phrase and image is crystal clear in “All Are Numbered”, the poem is a masterpiece of understatement and indirection, and the undercurrent of mood drives it along as much as the narrative. Passages such as “Moving along the narrow grassy rows” and “eternally/Quite clipped and orderly” are so perfect in every prosodic dimension that I felt like I was reading something by Richard Wilbur. I’m sure I’ve read it before, because you sent me a copy of that chapbook, but this time it came on to me like a thunderclap. You must know by now that memory, time and death are in my wheelhouse, and I think you have just taught me what a poem imbued with such subjects should look and sound like. The other poems were quite fine as well, but that’s only what I’ve come to expect of you.


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