My family’s dog—a small, scruffy something-or-other who brings us real joy daily—is an easygoing pup, gentle and snuggly and goofy. She’s also deeply stubborn, and when we’re on a walk and she wants to take her time, there’s no hurrying her.
The other day the dog decided, for the 10th or 12th or 30th time on that particular stroll, that it was very important to stop and thoroughly inspect a particular square foot of someone’s yard. I felt my impatience rising. It was cold, and I had a backlog of emails to return, and I needed to get home.
I reached for my phone—maybe I could check off a quick email response, or at least scroll through Instagram for a few minutes to quell my impatience.
Then I looked at my dog, her nose working, her ears perked forward, eyes scanning the yard for potential squirrels. She was taking in absolutely everything; her mind wasn’t lunging ahead or pulling back, but was right here. And I realized that I didn’t need to get home, not really—it was chilly, yes, and I had work to do, but I could take an extra five minutes.
We live in a culture of productivity. I make checklists every day: grade these assignments, respond to these emails, prep these classes, do this laundry, buy these groceries, make these phone calls.
It’s easy to feel like we’re doing something wrong if we’re not constantly accomplishing some specific task. Even our wait time—in dentist offices, in carpool lines, in the grocery store checkout—is so often filled by our phones, those tiny computers we carry everywhere so that we’re never without email, social media, our favorite games, or the news.
But what if we said no, just for a little while, to that pressure? What if we took a few minutes every day to be a stubborn, curious dog, busy paying attention to whatever is around us?
This Month’s Poetry Break: Wait & Create
This poem can be written anywhere you like—in your home, at the doctor’s office, on the bus. The only requirement is that you write it during a time when you’re waiting.
Step 1: Jot down as many details as you can observe from where you’re waiting. Don’t worry about being poetic or making details fit together. Try titling your poem with a short description of your setting.
On Elm Street Waiting for My Dog to Stop Sniffing
The sidewalk is covered in red maple leaves.
An airplane passes overhead.
A rabbit twitches its nose by the back tire of a blue Honda.
Someone has left a purple glove on the dead azalea bush.
The air smells like pine and diesel.
Step 2: Look at the details you’ve written down. Which one interests you most, or evokes a memory or question? Move that detail to the end of your list of observations and use it as a jumping off point for the rest of your poem. Where will you follow it?
…Someone has left a purple glove on the dead azalea bush.
Once I left my favorite hat in the school cafeteria
and the next day it was gone. I still miss it.
I’ve lost a kite, a basketball, at least fifteen Frisbees.
I lost a twenty dollar bill on the train to Providence.
A David Bowie CD to a breakup.
A red plastic barrette at the second grade picnic.
I’ve left parts of myself all over this country.
I haven’t forgotten any of them.
There’s something exhilarating about putting aside daily requirements for a few minutes and letting our attention go where it wants.
During this busy season, see if you can turn waiting into an opportunity for creativity. Where will your attention and thoughts lead you? Enjoy the discovery. Write your life.
Catherine Pierce is the Poet Laureate of Mississippi and the author of four books of poems, most recently Danger Days. She co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.