I heard this beautiful poem by David Allen Sullivan on the Writer’s Almanac the other week.  It is everything to grant oneself permission aloud, even if temporarily–to not be your absolute model best self at every turn.  Shake off the burden of the unnecessary, of what you can release that will cause no one else real harm.  The second half grants permission to be contemplative, slow, joyful and purposeless in your experience of life.

My favorite line in the poem is: Revel in the flight of birds without dreaming of flight.  

Read the poem (you might also like to read Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese, which begins: You do not have to be good) and then write a poem fashioned after the original.  The real turn, for me, came with finishing the line about the poem you do not have to write.  Name it, but you don’t have to face it in this poem. This poem is about release.


These are my starting stanzas:

You do not have to protect others from the mist of sorrow
that settles over you in the night.
You don’t have to bury the quiver in your voice or hold
your head high, you can bow though you were not taught to.

You don’t need to write a poem about your fears:
your mother’s breath stilling, your sons’ faces
turning blue—or bearded—the inescapable imminence
of someone you can’t bear losing
disappearing into memory

Write your poem using these phrases:

You do not have to

You don’t have to bury

You do not have to write the poem about

You can let

You can

You can be

You can be




Good luck, dears.  You amaze me.

3 thoughts on “Permission

  1. Mary Durfee

    My sister posted your Permission blog post. I don’t ‘do’ poetry, but loved your prompt. I even did more of my normal writing afterwards. So, thanks…here is my result.

    Pleasing do as you please
    By Mary Durfee
    You do not have to wonder aloud.
    You don’t have to bury what was lost.
    You do not have to write the poem about yesterday or tomorrow.
    You can let the spider build its home.
    You can spill words ‘til they slip off the table.
    You can be a racehorse that wins by a nose.
    You can check the roadside with a glossy crow.
    Feel the bass drum wiggle your ribs.
    See the arcs of life protect you.

    • seemareza

      Mary–thank you so much for posting. Love this: “You can let the spider build its home.” I’m glad this fed your writing practice, come back soon!


  2. Dave

    This probably doesn’t count as poetry, but it’s an expression of how I feel. In your writing groups you always say something to the effect of not hiding behind flowery language. And I think I achieved that. Anyway here it is:

    You do not have to live in fear of your own mind and the deterioration of your memories – losing precious moments of your children and your life.
    You don’t have to bury your dreams beneath a pile of pills, beneath stacks of forms declaring you mentally unfit for service, or beneath the knowing, and judging, states of strangers.
    You do not have to write the poem about your failures, your successes, or your fears. You can write about your hopes – for yourself, for Gretchen, and for your children.
    You can let the future happen without worrying about it, life has given you plenty of other things to worry about. The future is coming, but until it becomes the present there is no point in stressing about it.
    You can allow yourself to feel hope. Hope that one day you will be a mental health nurse, helping people the way other nurses helped you. Hope that Gretchen is able to realize her dream of becoming a professional photographer. Hope that William, Olivia, and Daniel grow up happy and achieve their dreams, whatever they may be.
    You can be free to explore and revel in the freedom of this unexpected future. A future surrounded by extended family, surrounded by love.
    You can be a whole new you, no longer bound by the Navy and its expectations of you. You can discover who you really are beneath the uniform.
    Feel the excitement of living your life according to your design, not constrained by duty and desire for advancement. But being able to do what you want, whenever you want.
    See yourself achieving new dreams. See yourself and your family living happily and harmoniously for the first time in a long time.

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