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“Thimble, Penney, Fork”


Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. His work epitomizes the power of language and imagination to transform even the most humble objects. In the world of poetry, nothing is beneath consideration. Neruda’s leaps of metaphor and image transform even the simplest daily objects so that we see them in formerly unimagined ways. In his Odes to Common Things (trans. By Ken Krabbenhoft, Little, Brown and Co., 1994), Neruda presents new “takes” on that simple household item, the scissors. Here is how it begins:



Ode to a pair of scissors




(looking like

birds, or


you are as polished as a knight’s

shining armor.


Two long and treacherous


crossed and bound together

for all time,


tiny rivers


thus was born a creature for cutting,

a fish the swims among billowing linens,

a bird that flies




Similarly, the first four lines of a poem by Charles Simic describe another unassuming household object,




This strange thing must have crept

Right out of hell.

It resembles a bird’s foot

Worn about the cannibal’s neck…



See how easily and comfortably Simic embraces humor in this poem. Likewise, Neruda’s “Ode to the cat” opens with a description even the cat, himself, would approve:


Ode to the cat


There was something wrong

with the animals:

their tails were too long, and they had

unfortunate heads.

Then they started coming together,

little by little

fitting together to make a landscape,

developing birthmarks, grace, pep.

But the cat,

only the cat

turned out finished,

and proud:

born in a state of total completion,

it sticks to itself and knows exactly what it wants…





If you’re stumped for how to start your next poem, look around you and choose a simple something to elevate with your own ode or tribute poem, taking that object, plant, or animal into new territory.


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