Posted November 2, 2017.

2017 Fall Contest Winner: 2nd Place, Poet’s Choice

In Defense of Loneliness

“You’re wondering if I’m lonely”:

                                    after Adrienne Rich


Are you asking about this second

when the blue between clouds is so spare

I could be imagining it,

not the blue but the loneliness,

the space between what’s missing

and what’s there.


Not what’s there, really,

but more the way birch bark separates

and peels like sunburned skin

how it turns white and prickles and blisters,

not bark underneath but skin,

not new skin, but the pain

of what’s left behind.


So sometimes in the quiet emptiness

of early morning

when everyone’s asleep,

I listen for their breathing,

And then my own

and I am alone but not lonely,

because the space between breaths

is never lonely.


But that fall through empty space

love and its foolish act of faith,

that leap across a chasm,

like I’m an eagle whose talons

cannot be trusted to hold onto the branch,

not just any branch

but the most important branch.


Sometimes I miss my mother’s laugh

and I feel a cavern in the base of my belly,

not just my belly but everywhere

and it opens inside me

and then, yes, I think I am lonely.


Sometimes I miss my daughter

or my husband and they are sitting

two feet away and I am lonelier still.


And sometimes I would do anything

to speak in that shadow language:

fur and bone,

wing and feather,

that tongue of peeling bark.

If we could all just listen

when the silence was unbearable.


Not quiet which is different,

which is full and open

and sometimes haunting.


If we could bear the silence though,

together, all of us,

that would be something, wouldn’t it?




Donna Prinzmetal is a poet, psychotherapist and teacher. She has taught poetry and creative writing for more than 25 years to adults and children. Donna often uses writing to facilitate restoration and healing in her psychotherapy practice. Her poems have appeared in many magazines including Prairie Schooner, The Comstock Review, and The Journal. Her first book, Snow White, When No One Was Looking, was published with CW Books in May of 2014.

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