Arts and Entertainment

Zippo | Poem by Judith Slater

Sometimes, when we are children, someone or something suddenly throws open a window and the world of adults pours in. And we never quite get over it. Here’s a poem about an experience like that by Judith Slater, who lives in New York.


I didn’t think handsome then, I thought
my father the way he saunters down Main Street,
housewives, shopkeepers, mechanics calling out,
children running up to get Lifesavers. The way
he pauses to chat, flipping his lighter open,
tamping the Lucky Strike on his thumbnail.


I sneak into his den when he’s out, tuck
into the kneehole of his desk and sniff
his Zippo until dizzy, emboldened;
then play little tricks, mixing red and black
inks in his fountain pen, twisting together
paperclips. If I lift the telephone receiver


quietly, I can listen in on our party line.
That’s how I hear two women
talking about him. That’s why my mother
finds me that night sleepwalking, sobbing.
“It’s all right,” she tells me,
“you had a nightmare, come to bed.”


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Judith Slater from her most recent book of poems, The Wind Turning Pages, Outriders Poetry Project, 2011. Poem reprinted by permission of Judith Slater and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the Oct 19
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates