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Words Matter: Choose Wisely
Joanne Durham


says the sign on the red and white cooler
in my neighbor’s front yard. Kids on bikes, curious
walkers, tourists who wander off the beach
lift the creaky top. We find smooth stones,
egg-sized, still heavy with the mountain
they long ago deserted, each painted
with a word. Should I prop open my door
with imagination, anchor fly-away papers
with song, or ponder oblivious and obvious
as bookends? Sunrise could last all day
on the mantle, and I could fiddle with detrimental
in my jacket pocket without causing harm. Visitors
will surely depart with dolphins
nestled in duffle bags, a teenager will tuck courage
under her pillow. I choose wisely,
so understanding remains
for the home that needs it most.

From On S
hifting Shoals (Kelsay Publishing, 2023).
Used here with the author’s permission.

Joanne Durham is a retired educator who lives on the North Carolina coast, with the ocean as her backyard and muse. She's the author of To Drink from a Wider Bowl, which won the Sinclair Poetry Prize, and On Shifting Shoals. Joanne's poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and she teaches workshops about poetry inspired by art. When she's not writing, Joanne says she plays tennis, practices yoga, delights in her grandchildren, and "works for a better world in which they can grow up." Learn more about her at



Post New Comment:
Such a clever poem! I also love the idea of the words.
Posted 04/19/2024 09:58 AM
Your wonderful neighbors seem to be poets too protecting and sharing words to move and evoke purposefulness. Loved every word! Thank you.
Posted 04/14/2024 11:02 AM
Wilda Morris:
Wonderful poem! And yes, choose wisely!
Posted 04/14/2024 08:34 AM
I love this idea of sharing these words painted on stones with whoever comes along. Kindness in a cooler. Pretty cool!
Posted 04/13/2024 03:10 PM
Lori Levy:
I like the way the words on the stones are weaved into this poem.
Posted 04/13/2024 01:04 PM
"still heavy with the mountain they long ago deserted" caused my chest to tighten up because of the truth of this image. Thank you
Posted 04/13/2024 12:14 PM
Sharon Waller Knutson:
I'm a big fan of Joanne Durham because she practices what she preaches. She chooses her words wisely and she makes a believer out of me. Words do matter which is why I am a poet.
Posted 04/13/2024 11:21 AM
Larry Schug:
What a cool story told within this poem! What a great idea!
Posted 04/13/2024 10:38 AM
Another wonderful ending that deepens all the earlier words. Warm d smart.
Posted 04/13/2024 10:32 AM
Angela Hoffman:
Love this ideas of choosing a stone and I love this poem!
Posted 04/13/2024 09:12 AM
Such a well-crafted, meaningful poem that inspired several readings. And that coolerhow clever!
Posted 04/13/2024 08:55 AM
Posted 04/13/2024 08:35 AM
Joan Luther:
Words DO matter, example, my children werent allowed to cuss so my daughter came up with cuss word instead of the actual cuss word.
Posted 04/13/2024 08:17 AM
This is an amazing poem! I really enjoyed it. Did the poem ever say which word she chose? Words are like tiny adventures!
Posted 04/13/2024 07:02 AM

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